Richard Henry Jesse was born in Lancaster County, Virginia in the same home as Mary Ball Washington, mother of this country's first president. Jesse was a professor of Latin at Tulane University at the time he was selected to fill the position of president of the University of Missouri in 1891. The following year, Academic Hall burned to the ground, leaving only the landmark columns standing. The Board of Curators was urged by Jesse to rebuild the campus, not only the main building, but to also create additional buildings on campus. In addition to this successful rebuilding, Jesse doubled the seminary fund and quadrupled the income of the University. Jesse created several institutions of the University which are still evident today, including the summer school and university athletics programs. However, one of the most notable changes brought about by his leadership was the change in curriculum from a prescribed or classical course of study to the modern elective system.
Not only was Jesse successful in overseeing these structural and administrative changes, but he was also quite popular with the student body. Being so popular, when Jesse took a leave of absence to travel to Europe, the students rallied at his residence, unharnessed the horses, and pulled the carriage to the train station themselves. Jesse remained president until 1908, when he was forced to resign due to ill health, which ultimately led to his death in 1921. To honor Jesse for his contributions to the University, as well as to commemorate his popularity with students, Jesse Hall was formally dedicated in his honor in January of 1922.
Severance, Henry O., Richard Henry Jesse, Columbia, Missouri, 1937.
Viles, Jonas, The University Of Missouri: A Centennial History, University of Missouri, 1939.
Stephens, Frank F., A History of the University of Missouri, University Press, 1962.
Copyright © Curators of the University of Missouri 2008
Published by: University Archives muarchives.missouri.edu/
Prepared by Nicole Mautino
Revised: 2 June 2008