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.
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