MU alma mater: Some women object to 'maiden' in 'Old Missouri'

Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 7:07 p.m. CDT; updated 9:11 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 19, 2012

The MU alma mater, "Old Missouri," has been sung at concerts, sporting events and award ceremonies since it was written in 1895, but some people believe it is time to modify wording in the song they see as outdated.

The issue came up when several women approached Michael Urban, co-chairman of the MU Status of Women Committee, with complaints about the second verse, which says: "Every student, man and maiden, swells the glad refrain."

Urban said the women believe the word "maiden," which can mean unmarried girl or virgin, is offensive and archaic, especially when used in parallel with the word "man."

Although the Status of Women Committee cannot make any changes on its own, it could make a formal suggestion to the deputy chancellor to alter the wording. The committee discussed the issue in a meeting Tuesday but ultimately voted against taking any action.

Johanna Kramer, an English professor at MU who specializes in Old English literature, said the word maiden comes from the Old English word "mægden," meaning "girl," and developed around the 11th or 12th century.


"'Maiden' can have a large variety of meanings depending on the context," she said. "It could mean virgin, as these women said, but when it is used in a list like this, it often just means woman."


Director of MU Equity Noel English said the issue has not come up before in her 12 years on the Status of Women Committee. She said she is not sure if the committee is the proper organization to take up the cause.

"I tend to think that we would have better luck trying to raise awareness and letting someone else take the spearhead position," she said.

Although the issue has not been brought to the committee in the past, Urban said that, at some MU events, people yell "woman" to drown out the word "maiden" as a form of protest.

Despite this, Raean Stockham, a Missouri Students Association representative on the committee, doesn't believe it's an issue of great priority to students.

"I didn’t know about the wording, or the song in general, until we brought it up," she said. "Now that I do know what it means, I am not offended by it, nor do I think most of the student population would be."

A Missourian Facebook status about the issue asked readers, "Do you think the lyrics should be changed?"

Many who replied in the comments said a change is not necessary.

 "As a person who was part of the Association of Women students decades ago, may I politely suggest: leave the song alone!" Jacqueline Clark wrote.

Joan Hermsen, chairwoman of MU's Department of Women's and Gender Studies, said at the committee meeting Tuesday that she has conflicting feelings on the topic.

"I think that language matters, but I worry that this is going to be seen as a trivial issue," she said. "I worry people are going to really say that 'this is all the committee has to think about?'"

Urban said that although he understands the sentiment behind the conflict with the wording, he is hesitant to make any changes.

"I do think it’s kind of ridiculous that we're calling all women students on campus 'maidens,'" he said. "But changing anything, no matter what it would be, would be problematic for some people because it’s messing with tradition."

 Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Skip Yates October 18, 2012 | 9:25 p.m.

way too much time on their hands. Is their primary purpose to find something to be offended about and complain on behalf of those that could care less?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 18, 2012 | 9:44 p.m.

Oh lord.........

Heck, why not just do what I do? Don't learn the words. Ever. When the song is sung, just mouth the words "Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon" over and one will know the difference unless you make a mistake and sing loudly.

This technique has served me well for many, many decades.

PS: This story is laff of the week.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 18, 2012 | 9:50 p.m.

PSS: I don't know why, but the last time I was at an MU football game, it sure sounded like a full stadium singing "watermelon" sotto voce over and over during the alma mater.

My hearing may be gone, tho........

(Report Comment)

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