Skip to main content

Starr, Martha Jane Phillips (November 27, 1906-November 14, 2011)



  • Existence: November 27, 1906 - November 14, 2011


Martha Jane Phillips was born November 27, 1906, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (Oklahoma Territory at the time), the daughter of L.E. Phillips, a co-founder of Phillips Petroleum. In 1929 Martha Jane married John Wilbur “Twink” Starr, a University of Kansas-educated geologist who was her brother’s classmate. Soon after the couple’s move to Kansas City, Starr got involved in the community – at first through her sons and then through home front efforts during World War II.

Mary Jane Starr’s resolve sometimes led her in directions that were not always popular. In the late 1940s through the 1950s, divorce and abortion were among the most taboo subjects. Family planning was also high on the list of hushed subjects, even for a woman consulting her physician.

Although Starr may have been raised in an almost Victorian culture, she did not believe that silence or ignorance made for a strong and fulfilling family life. She was invited to join Planned Parenthood’s board and eventually served as president. With the help of several doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Starr and other Planned Parenthood volunteers eventually raised funds to endow a Research Professorship in Human Reproduction, the first of its kind in the country.

But biological education was not enough to build solid families and Starr turned her attention to marriage. Her belief was that men and women should form a partnership. In the mid1950s, a group led by Starr began a pilot project on marriage enrichment. Gradually the project developed into UMKC’s Family Studies Center. Starr also led efforts to start the UMKC Women’s Council and their Graduate Assistance Fund, which assists female students with research projects and presentations at national conferences.

Starr’s projects simply led into one another, following her deep interests in women, marriage, children and education. “I didn’t do these things because they were controversial,” she said. “I did them because they were right.”

Martha Jane Phillips Starr died at the home on November 14, 2011, just shy of her 105th birthday.

Source: Excerpted from article by Leigh Vaccaro, “A Legacy of Leadership” Perspectives Magazine, Spring 1998

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Martha Jane Starr Collection

Identifier: MS-0169
Scope and Contents The Martha Jane Starr Collection was gifted to the LaBudde Special Collections by Martha Jane Starr in March of 2010. Due to the nature of Mrs. Starr’s strong connections to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and her deep rooted involvement with the Women’s Council and Family Life Education, the Starr Collection is rich in documentation and showcases the breadth of her devotion to education. Her dedication to the importance of marriage and family enrichment led to the...
Dates: 1901 - 2015