The "M" Men’s Club at the University of Missouri had it all: complimentary tickets to intercollegiate events and reserved seats for family members on the outdoor bleachers or in the men’s gym. The athletes were tutored to catch up on class work they missed when they were competing out-of-town. To cap that off, they ate at a special "training table" at my Aunt Ella Henry’s house, across Rollins Street near the gym.
They paid Aunt Ella to feed the athletes to "make them strong and healthy." She also lectured them about digestion and table manners - as they ate. How do I know this? I stayed with my aunt some Friday nights. My brother and I were country kids who went with Dad to deliver milk to customers’ homes around Columbia in our Model T Ford truck. He’d take us to the University Laboratory School on Conley Avenue and Sixth Street for the day. Mother picked us up at 4 p.m., and we sometimes visited Aunt Ella when her helpers were setting dishes on long tables for supper for those athletes. Sometimes we saw Uncle John in his office at the Boone County Courthouse. I liked the telephone he held in one hand to speak and the other thing he put to his ear, to listen. Sometimes he’d be writing on a huge contraption called a typewriter. Many MU athletes, now in their 90s, will remember Aunt Ella and Uncle John Henry.
Those "M" men enjoyed several perks, including the training table to ensure they got plenty of great muscle-building food. Aunt Ella planned the menus, bought the food and was overseer of the kitchen help and the clean-up crew. She ate with the athletes and lectured them about diet, health and table manners as they ate, but she broke all of her own rules. She was obese! "M" men were tutored to keep their grades up because they lost time from classes when the team traveled by the slowpoke Wabash or Katy railroad.
The years marched on, and I was one of many women athletes trained by dedicated teachers: Miss Mary Rose McKee, Miss Ruby Cline, Miss Mae Kelley and others on the University of Missouri physical education staff. We expected no perks and, of course, got none. It wasn’t lady-like in the ’30s for women’s teams to perform for the public - especially for money! We performed for the love of the sport and earned "points." I was aware that two or three seniors wore "M" sweaters, but as a four-year member of the rifle team, I had earned four white shaker wool sweaters, each with an "M" with center bull’s-eye target and gold stripes on the sleeves to indicate number of years on the team. The Mermaid Club had a letter emblem for our bathing suits. Team sports awarded only points, but I didn’t keep track.
One noon I was hurrying to journalism class when Miss Cline and Miss Kelley stopped me in the hall. "Sue, you are the first student to ever earn 1,000 points in just three years. You will be initiated into the ‘M’ women’s club next week. You will be the only ‘M’ woman when you’re a senior. This year’s ‘Thousand Point Members’ are all physical education majors graduating this week."
I was the lone "M" woman in 1936 - a senior graduating in journalism! I hadn’t even counted my points!
"M" men earned their letters in just one major sport with 100 points. "M" women earned their letters in many sports - 1,000 points! With no free tickets or training table!