Sadie Kent is an integral part of Southeast Missouri State University history. In fact, her name still graces one of the most prominent buildings on campus: Kent Library.
As a historic preservation student at Southeast, Peter Reckling worked at Southeast's Kent Library. Although he's since graduated and moved into his own career, he remembers some of his first experiences with preserving historical pieces. They happened at the library.
Reckling started to recognize pieces of furniture from historic University photos and archives that were sitting in Kent Library. The historical importance of the furniture started to unfold. These pieces were around throughout Southeast's 150 year history. He decided he wanted to do something to make sure the furntiure was not only preserved, but displayed in a way that told the story.
He started by going to his direct supervisor and eventually moved his project idea up the chain before getting underway in the 2017-2018 school year.
Eventually, Reckling assisted in the restoration of 14 pieces of furniture in Kent Library. One of the most important was a desk.
In 1943, the brand new library was officially named "Kent Library" after librarian Sadie Kent. The University decided it would be named after Kent for her long service to the school as the school's first female librarian.
Kent had helped dedicate the new library in 1939 when it was finished, but the building officially got its name a few years later. Kent had dedicated the library by placing a Bible on a shelf in the reading room.
"For someone in her field, I believe she was a trendsetter," Reckling said.
Library staff and Reckling found a desk that looked familiar. With the help of some historic photos, they were pretty sure they found the desk that Kent had used in her time at Southeast. They needed to confirm. Reckling spent days researching archives and comparing the desk to University photos. Eventually, they had enough evidence to confirm. One day, while Reckling was inspecting the underside of the desk, he found a date sprawled in pencil across the bottom: 1906. This was Sadie Kent's desk.
"It was a really special moment," Reckling said.
The desk had been refinished and waxed so many times, Reckling and others went to work finding original finishes, sanding out shellac, refinishing and sealing.
Sadie Kent: Southeast's First Female Librarian
Next, they had to decide where the piece was going to go. They knew this was important, they wanted it to be in an important place. That resting place is the Rare Book Room in the library.
“The Rare Book Room is an incredible asset for the University community, as well as the region,” said Tyson Koenig, the Special Collections and Archives librarian. The Rare Book Room is home to both the Charles L. Harrison Collection of rare books and manuscripts and the L.D. Brodsky William Faulkner Collection. “It is a true gem of our campus that draws wide recognition to the University.”
William Faulkner's type writer now sits on Sadie Kent's desk.
"It's so important for students to see those things that have been there for 100 years," Reckling said. "And I hope they're there for 100 years more."
Sadie Kent's Desk: Before & After
Kent Library has planned a multitude of educationally rich exhibits for Library Week Nov. 13-17 as well as celebrating the 80th anniversary of the naming of Kent Library during SEMO’s sesquicentennial celebration.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Special Collections and Archives will host three significant events related to the Rare Book Room in Kent Library and its collection to kick off Library Week. There will be an open house in the Rare Book Room from 2-4 p.m. for Southeast students, faculty, and staff. Alumni can visit the Rare Book Room from 5-6:30 p.m by filling out the alumni registration form.
That evening, the Library will host an exclusive film screening of the documentary “Faulkner: The Past Is Never Dead” in Rose Theatre in the Grauel Building, from 7-9p.m. The documentary is only being shown at film festivals and special screenings around the country. Special Collections and Archives collaborated extensively with the Faulkner documentary filmmakers, who spent several days on campus in 2018.
Following the film screening, members of the production team, along with Faulkner scholar Dr. Robert Hamblin and Special Collections and Archives librarian Tyson Koenig, will participate in a short panel discussion about the documentary.
Two important events will wrap-up Library Week.
- On Wednesday, Nov. 15 from noon-1 p.m., Southeast plans to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the naming of the Kent Library for Sadie Kent. Students, faculty, and staff are all welcome to enjoy birthday cake, making pins and playing games.
- On Nov. 16 from 5:30- 6:30 p.m., Dr. Steven Hoffman of the Department of History and Anthropology will be giving a Library Lecture on Southeast’s architectural history on the main floor of Kent Library, entitled “Architectural Trends and the SEMO Campus: 150 Years of Quality Design.”
Tyson Koenig said, “Kent Library has always been, and remains today, a place dedicated to learning and discovery and a crucial element of student success at Southeast. We are excited to share these unique and entertaining learning opportunities while we celebrate the library’s namesake and Library Week.”