Missouri State University

Special Collections and Archives
Meyer Library Room 306
901 S National Ave
Springfield, MO 65897

(417) 836-5428

MSU and USO: Fifteen Years of Troop Entertainment

Anything Goes cast photo

From 1961 to 1976, the United Service Organizations (USO), along with the American Educational Theater Association (AETA), selected the Theatre and Dance Department of Missouri State University five times to perform for United States troops stationed overseas. These USO Overseas Tours began in the spring of 1958 and included about nine colleges each year.

The USO, an organization dedicated to providing entertainment and to being a "Home Away from Home" for United States military personnel, was founded in 1941 by six civilian agencies: the Salvation Army, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the National Catholic Community Services, the National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board. USO clubs provided everything from coffee and doughnuts to Hollywood celebrities for U.S. troops around the world. Today the USO also provides services such as travel assistance, free internet and e-mail access, and family events for troops and their families stationed overseas. They operate over one-hundred clubs in ten countries.

In 1959, Missouri State University was among twenty-five schools asked to submit samples of their work to the USO to possibly be chosen for an overseas tour. MSU was elected as an alternate for the 1960 tour but did not go that year. In 1961, however, MSU became the eighth tour group to perform in the European Command and the first Missouri college to be chosen overall. While overseas, the USO paid for production and living costs, and the U.S. Department of Defense supplied transportation.

Finian's Rainbow production photo
Dr. Leslie Irene Coger
Dr. Leslie Irene Coger, director of four of the five USO tours in which Missouri State University participated, was one of the first women to direct an overseas musical tour for the USO. She came to Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State Teachers College) in 1943, and in 1952 she became the first person to be designated as a Professor of Speech at the school. She founded the Ozarks Festival in 1961 (later called the Ozarks/Flint Hills Performance Festival) and co-founded the summer Tent Theatre program at MSU with Dr. Robert Gilmore in 1963. She also was an authority on readers theater and wrote the first text on the subject, the Readers Theatre Handbook: A Dramatic Approach to Literature, with Melvin White in 1967. She retired in 1981 and passed away in 1999. Coger Theatre, located in Craig Hall on the MSU campus, is named for her.

Records of the students' and professors' travels exist today in the university's archives in the form of photographs, programs, correspondence, and scrapbooks, as well as other memorabilia. This exhibit presents a selection from the university archives. Clicking on the links to the left will take you to more information about each show as well as provide links to photographs and scanned documents that relate to the tours. The original items, as well as additional items and information, can be found in the Special Collections and Archives Department, Room 306, in the Duane G. Meyer Library of Missouri State University.

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