Art Crusader: The Enduring Legacy of Deborah D. Weisel

This timeline explores the life and work of Deborah Delp Weisel (1868-1950).

Deborah Weisel moved to Springfield in 1921 and went on to expand the Art Department at what is now Missouri State University, found and establish the Springfield Art Museum, and advocate for the betterment of Springfield through the arts, responsible city planning, and the expansion of green space. She also strove to extend the benefits of exhibitions and art education to rural communities in Southwest Missouri, with an emphasis making art available to young children.

1868-10-03 00:00:00

Birth & Ancestry

Deborah Delp Weisel is born to Anthony Fretz Weisel and Hannah Eliza Delp Weisel at her maternal grandparents' farmhouse in Doylestown, PA.

1872-04-28 11:16:32

New Home & Brother Ross Born

By 1872, the Weisel family had moved to their new home at Cross Keys Inn at the corner of Old Easton Road and East Swamp Road in Doylestown, PA. Deborah's brother Henry Ross Weisel (known to the family as simply Ross) was born here this year.

1873-03-06 11:16:32

Meningitis Outbreak

While living at Cross Keys, young Deborah and infant Ross contracted meningitis. Ross was left permanently deaf and mute from the affliction, while Deborah survived with only a slightly shortened left leg.

1882-10-30 11:16:32

Sister Frances Born & Third Home

Deborah's sister Frances Augusta Weisel is born on October 30, 1882. In 1882, the Weisel family moves to their third home on Easton Road in Doylestown.

1885-05-01 11:16:32


Deborah Weisel is named valedictorian of her class at Doylestown Private Seminary, circa May 1885 (date is approximate). She had special photographs made to mark the occasion of her valedictory speech.

1888-10-30 11:16:32

Pennsylvania Art Museum & School of Industrial Arts

At age 20, Weisel enrolls at Pennsylvania Art Museum and School of Industrial Arts (now University of the Arts in Philadelphia) as "Debbie" Weisel, beginning training for a general diploma and drawing certificate.

1889-05-05 07:05:17

Receives Drawing Certificate

Weisel receives her certificate in Drawing from Pennsylvania Art Museum & School of Industrial Arts. Her studies continue at PAMSIA through 1891.

1891-05-29 07:05:17

Graduation from PAMSIA

Weisel graduates from PAMSIA with a diploma, as well as a prize of $10 for "Excellence of work in Modelling [sic]," a sculpture award. Supposedly the sculpture that won her this prize was displayed in the Director's office for a time after her graduation. A wooden maquette of this same sculpture sat on her sister France's mantel at her home in Moorestown, NJ.

1898-06-09 07:05:17

Teacher's Certificate

In 1898, Weisel was awarded a certificate qualifying her to teach "normal courses" in art. This meant that her specialty would be in training students to become art teachers.

1898-06-09 07:05:17

Beginning of Education Career

Weisel moves from Philadelphia to Middletown Township in Delaware County, PA and resides in a boarding house. She becomes Supervisor of Music in Doylestown, presumably in the public school system, a position she will hold at least until 1901.

1899-05-05 07:05:17

West Chester Normal School

Frances (18) and Deborah (31) both enroll as undergraduates at West Chester State Normal School. Deborah only seems to stay at WCNS for a year, while Frances continues on to graduate as valedictorian in 1901 after two years of study. Presumably Deborah leaves West Chester Normal School to assume her position as Supervisor of Music in Doylestown.

1900-06-09 07:05:17

Doylestown Music Supervisor

After leaving West Chester Normal School, Weisel is employed as Supervisor of Music in Doylestown, a position she holds until 1903, when she becomes Supervisor of Art.

1901-06-09 07:05:17

Drawing Teacher & Louis "Skipper" Klauder

Weisel begin to teach drawing at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media, PA until 1903. Williamson was a boarding school for "financially disadvantaged" young men. It is possible that she taught here during summer school sessions, as she is also employed as Music Supervisor in Doylestown during this same time frame. At some point she becomes acquainted with Louis Tobias Klauder, who graduated as valedictorian of his class at Williamson. Weisel introduced him to her sister Frances, who had just graduated from West Chester Normal School, also as valedictorian. The two fell in love and the couple became engaged that year.

1902-06-01 07:05:17

Diploma from New England Conservatory

Deborah receives a diploma from New England Conservatory (Boston) in the subject of Public School Music. Considering her other obligations, it is possible that the diploma requirements were obtained during summer sessions, as she did at Cornell in 1911.

1903-06-09 07:05:17

Doylestown Art Supervisor

Weisel teaches drawing and "sub-primary" normal courses in Doylestown through 1906. Her official title is Supervisor in Art.

1905-06-09 07:05:17

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

In 1905, Weisel begins traveling to Philadelphia to take informal art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). She takes what was called the "Beginner's Day Class" from 1905-06.

1906-06-09 07:05:17

Pottstown Art Supervisor

Weisel resigns from her position teaching and supervising in Doylestown, having accepted a job as Art Supervisor at Pottstown high school for a salary of $800. One of her duties was teaching freehand drawing. She holds this job until 1916, when she moves to Vermont.

1909-06-09 07:05:17

More Classes at PAFA

From 1909-10, Weisel resumes her classes at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She attends the Saturday Class--most likely costume sketching, which was intended to teach beginner artists how to draw figures in costume, though Weisel was hardly new to drawing and painting. Perhaps she wanted to refine her figure drawing skills in particular.

1911-06-01 07:05:17

Summer Session at Cornell

Weisel enrolls in a summer session at Cornell University to study Public School Music. Though she was Supervisor of Music in Doylestown from 1900-03 while receiving a diploma in Public School Music from New England Conservatory in Boston, it is unknown if she played any musical instruments herself or otherwise expressed musical talent.

1913-07-25 07:05:17

West Chester Normal School

Deborah teaches a summer session in drawing at West Chester State Normal School in Chester County.

1914-05-01 07:05:17

Travel Abroad

Weisel spends the summer traveling abroad in Europe - mostly Italy and Greece - with a group from PAMSIA.

1916-07-25 07:05:17

Art Instructor at Johnson State Normal School

At age 48, Weisel begins teaching at Johnson State Normal School in Johnson, Vermont, until 1921. She was hired by JSNS's first woman principal, Bessie Bacon Goodrich. Goodrich was especially devoted to elementary education and subscribed to the theory that a child will naturally flourish and develop under the right creative environment.

1917-06-06 07:05:17

B.S. from Columbia University

Weisel commences from Columbia University in New York City with a B.S. in Education and Practical Arts (or Industrial Arts). She also receives another diploma in Education, qualifying her to be a Supervisor of Industrial Arts. Her degree was conferred by James Earl Russell, Dean of the Columbia Teachers College.

1918-06-06 07:05:17

Requests Exhibition from PAMSIA

At some point in 1918, Weisel "earnestly requests" an exhibition of student work from Pennsylvania Art Museum and School of Industrial Art, her alma mater.

1921-01-01 07:05:17

Brief Stint at Maryland State Normal School

Weisel spends about six months in Towson, Maryland organizing the Industrial Arts Department at Maryland State Normal School. Her stay was brief, as by this time she had already planned to move to Springfield, Missouri to develop the Fine Arts Department at State Teachers College.

1921-06-06 07:05:17

Weisel Moves from New England to Springfield, MO

After reportedly living in New York for a time, Deborah Weisel finally makes her transition to the Midwest, settling in Springfield, Missouri. She has been asked to head up the Fine Art Department there, which was fledgling until her arrival. Her new home is at the Kingsbarde Apartments (no longer standing), located on Kings Ave., within walking distance of STC.

1921-07-01 07:05:17

First Lecture on City Planning

During her first year in Springfield, Weisel began her attempts to engage Springfield society in the concerns of responsible civic development. When she was invited as a member of the Saturday Club to give a talk on the subject of art, she included the great need for aesthetic consideration in city planning, in accordance with her plan to use every opportunity to widen the scope of art in the consciousness of the people of Springfield.

1922-05-05 07:05:17

Revives Ozarko Publication

For the past 5 years, the Ozarko yearbook had suspended publication. When Deborah Weisel began teaching at STC, she took it upon herself to assist in the resumption of yearbook committee, with herself as Art Advisor, assisting in all things relating to typeface, formatting, photographs, and printing.

1922-12-01 07:05:17

The Idea for the 1st Annual Exhibition

"There was no place in Springfield where people could see good pictures." -Deborah Weisel

1923-02-06 07:05:17

1st Annual Exhibition

After securing sponsorship, Weisel went about organizing the First Annual Exhibition.

1923-08-01 07:05:17

"Friends of Art" Guild

One of Weisel’s first major acts at STC was to form a college art club called “Friends of Art,” sometimes called “Friends o’ Art,” “Art Guild” or “Art Club.” The purpose of Friends was to arouse increased appreciation of art and further the cause of art education in the public schools of Southwest Missouri.

1924-01-08 07:05:17

2nd Annual Exhibition

Weisel arranges for another traveling show of paintings from the Met to be exhibited in Springfield.

1924-02-01 07:05:17

Back to Columbia University

In February 1924, Deborah Weisel left Springfield for New York City, where she spent four months studying at Columbia University Teachers College.

1924-07-25 07:05:17

Weisel Speaks to Club about City Planning

Deborah Weisel unobtrusively continued to advance her quiet crusade for city planning whenever the opportunity arose. She was at one point invited by Harriet Shepard to speak to her Business and Professional Women’s Club on the subject of city planning, which Weisel accepted, “not because she felt qualified to make such an address but because such an address ought to be given and the art division needed to embrace every opportunity to express its point of view in order to extend its usefulness and increase its prestige.”

1924-07-25 07:05:17

Progress in the Art Department

Weisel continues to expand activities and exhibitions for the Art Department, and expanding the scope and abilities of the Ozarko yearbook staff.

1925-01-27 07:05:17

3rd Annual Exhibition

"[The paintings] seemed to blaze with color, and a new sensation was given to Springfield. Many visitors felt that these glowing canvases were related to fine painting as jazz to good music, but seeing the enthusiasm of the art division came again and again to study the exhibit, and before the exhibition was over the purchase of a picture proved that the appreciation of modern art had begun."

1925-02-01 07:05:17

Exhibition of Mary Butler Paintings

In February of 1925, just before the Annual Exhibition closed, Butler sent no less than 36 paintings to Springfield to be displayed in the Art Department, which she allowed to remain for almost a full year. Three of these were ultimately purchased before the collection was sent back to Philadelphia.

1925-04-01 07:05:17

Harland Bartholomew Visits Chamber of Commerce

Weisel delivers a lecture on Civic Art at STC in April, which was reported on positively in The Southwest Standard. When prominent city planner Harland Bartholomew was invited to speak to Springfield Chamber of Commerce and make recommendations, Weisel's hopes of a professional city planner being hired for the City were once again stoked.

1926-04-01 07:05:17

4th Annual Exhibition

Having covered a great deal of ground with European and Northeastern academic painters, Weisel and the Friends of Art guild thought Springfield should become acquainted with the new work of western painters, specifically those associated with the Taos Society of Painters.

1926-04-01 07:05:17

Beginning of the Art Study Club

Since she began the Annual Exhibition, Weisel was concerned with developing an institution that could carry on the duty of bringing art to Springfield on a regular basis in the event that she would leave or otherwise be unable to do it. She initially defined this idea loosely, not calling it a "museum" or "gallery" per se, but rather "a group of people." In 1926, she would finally have the opportunity to assemble and organize this group, which would be called the Art Study Club.

1926-04-01 07:05:17

Weisel Speaks to Drury Alumnae Club

In 1926, the Springfield Alumnae Club of Drury College's Pi Phi sorority asked for an address on city planning. Five years had passed since Weisel's first lecture on this topic, and since then, Springfield had continued what Weisel considered to be wrongful development. Several streets and buildings "had been placed in wrong positions aesthetically" and "some unlovely additions" to the city had opened.

1927-02-01 07:05:17

The Bond Issue

In early 1927, City Commissioners wanted to float bonds for the creation of two new aqueducts, two subway railroad crossings, a new sewage system, and possibly a concrete covering over the Jordan River. The Bond Issue was given a good amount of publicity, and various meetings were held around Springfield to drum up public support for the measure. However, the women's vote was needed to pass the issue at election. Weisel saw this as an opportunity to further advocate for the issue of city planning in Springfield.

1927-02-09 07:05:17

5th Annual Exhibition

Weisel brings the stained glass of Philadelphia artist Nicola D'Ascenzo to STC's Art Department for the Fifth Annual Exhibition.

1927-03-18 07:05:17

The "Art Crusade": Weisel Offered Newspaper Column

In her personal narrative outlining her initial works in Springfield, Weisel frequently makes mention of the difficulties she had in securing reliable publicity for her efforts outside the STC art department. Adequate coverage of the Annual Exhibition was hard to obtain, and it wasn't until she began operating under the auspices of the Art Study Club that Weisel felt her voice was being heard by the community. When she did receive publicity for art-related events and projects, it was either badly reported on or truncated from her original text.

1927-06-01 07:05:17

Art Study Club Continues to Push City Planning

With the major bond passed and a victory won for the Art Study Club, the group of women set about applying their well-earned clout to other pending issues regarding city planning and urban development. The Mayor had requested that the Retail Men's Association produce a plan for renovating the Square downtown, a project on which Weisel urgently felt the need to assert her influence. The Art Study Club found every opportunity to advocate for unified plans put forth by qualified city planners, and for green space and civic involvement in cleaning up urban space.

1928-02-21 07:05:17

6th Exhibition & The Rise of the Museum Initiative

After the Art Study Club had been active for a couple of years, Weisel had her sights on finally segueing the organization to a formal Museum. From the time the Club's intentions were publicly declared on December 1, 1927 to the Sixth Annual Exhibition in early 1928, much work had to be done.

1928-05-07 07:05:17

First Meeting of the Springfield Art Museum

On May 7, 1928, the Art Study Club met for the first time as the incorporated Springfield Art Museum. The constitution had been drawn up with the help of Mary Butler, modeled on the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania of Fine Art's own constitution.

1928-05-10 07:05:17

SAM and City Planning

At the second meeting of Board of Trustees of the Springfield Art Museum at the Wilhoit building, Weisel recommends suspending all loaned exhibits for the summer so the Museum can spend these months "concentrating on a city planner."

1928-05-10 07:05:17

New York & Europe

Weisel was granted a year's leave from State Teacher's College to travel to the International Art Congress in Prague, and to complete her studies at Columbia University Teacher's College.

1929-05-10 07:05:17

Weisel Publishes Thesis

After establishing the Springfield Art Museum, Weisel collected her notes and sources from the effort and wrote "The Development of the Springfield Art Museum from the Art Department of State Teachers College, Springfield, Missouri: A Report." This thesis was submitted to partly satisfy the requirements for her Master's degree at Columbia University Teacher's College. Weisel's advisor had been Dr. Frederick G. Bonser, a respected scholar in the fields of industrial arts and pedagogy. In her text, Weisel discusses her role in reviving STC's Art Department, the start of the Annual Exhibitions, the beginning of the Art Study Club and the burgeoning of the Springfield Art Museum. She also discusses her involvement in city planning issues and her struggle to obtain publicity for her crusade. Weisel's thesis is perhaps the most crucial document related to her work. It is strikingly candid and honest about her methods and motivations, and proves her to be a calculating strategist as well as a thoughtful and forward-thinking visionary. The text also outlines her primary three occupations as they unfolded: STC's Art Department, the push toward city planning in Springfield, and the birth of the Springfield Art Museum. There are three extant copies of Weisel's thesis. One is in the library of the Springfield Art Museum (REF 701 W43), another is in the Special Collections at Missouri State University (N774 .W45 1929), and the third is at Columbia University Teacher's College in New York.

Art Crusader: The Enduring Legacy of Deborah D. Weisel

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