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Laura Pearle Stewart

January 12, 1976

Laura Pearle Stewart came to Coe College in 1902 when all speech and dramatics were lumped together under the term "elocution." The story of the lady who founded the drama department at Coe after this message.

A resident of Cedar Rapids since ,1894, Laura Pearle Stewart became a member of the Coe College faculty in 1902. As an instructor in speech and dramatics, she was also the carpenter, seamstress, electrician and financial manager for the college's play productions.

Before the Little Theater was set up in 1920 in the basement of the chapel, the plays were presented in an assembly room on the third floor of Old Main. Later they were held in what is now the women's gymnasium on "C" Avenue.

Appointed professor of speech and head of the department in 1914, Miss Stewart built up the drama department until at one time she had seven instructors working under her.

She would later recall that among the most interesting and elaborate productions staged during that period were the student written operettas presented at the Majestic theater.

In the early years, the plays were produced for entertainment, or to raise money for equipment, furniture and costumes for the actors. In 1919, all the monies from the various productions, including sketches, one-act plays, Shakespeare productions and farces were turned over to the Red Cross.

Laura Pearle Stewart stayed at Coe for 39 years, founding the Dramatic Club, the Coe Players, and the drama department, as well as training many actors for the Redpath-Vawter lyceum and Chautauqua circuit. At one point she was offered a career as a movie director in Hollywood -- an offer she turned down to remain with the department she had built up at Coe.

Miss Stewart also organized a group of her students into gypsy storytellers who went each year in costume to entertain youngsters in the children's hospital in Iowa City, at area libraries and other organizations in Cedar Rapids. Laura Pearle Stewart was indeed Coe College's first lady of drama.
 
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