Eva Johnston (1865 – 1941)
Eva Johnston was a Latin scholar and educational leader from Missouri. She was the first American woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Koenigsburg, Germany. She devoted her life to teaching and widening the educational horizons of her students.
Childhood and Education
Eva Johnston was born on May 14, 1865, in Ashland, Missouri. She attended schools in Ashland, then moved to Columbia to attend Stephens College, a two-year school for women. After completing her work at Stephens, Eva enrolled in the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1892. She excelled in Latin, and her teachers respected her work.
Before graduating in 1895 and giving the graduation speech for her class, Eva worked as a Latin tutor at the university. The faculty considered Eva the finest Latin student to have graduated from the university in that decade. She worked two years as a teaching fellow, while taking a post-graduate course in Latin. Then she held the chair of Latin at Columbia High School.
In 1899, Eva was offered the position of assistant professor of Latin at the university as long as she studied in Europe for two years first. She received a leave of absence without pay and studied under Professor Richard Heinze, a well-known Latin scholar at the Universities of Berlin and Heidelberg.
Eva returned to the University of Missouri, taught Latin, then received another leave of absence in 1904. She continued her graduate work with Professor Heinze, this time at the University of Koenigsburg. In 1905, she became the first American woman to earn a doctorate at Koenigsburg. Following the German academic custom of the time, Eva rode through town in a carriage and invited each professor of the Latin Department to question her about her thesis. She replied in Latin to their questions given in Latin.
Once again, Eva returned to the University of Missouri to teach Latin. In 1912, she was named an associate professor. She also began to serve as the advisor to women, a position she held for ten years. In 1922, the name of the position changed to Dean of Women.
The following year, Eva gave up the deanship and devoted herself to teaching Latin full time. After much travel and study in Europe, Eva knew French and Italian languages well and spoke German fluently. Her academic ambition and courage to travel alone in foreign countries inspired her students.
Eva Johnston became full professor of Latin in 1931. Although she retired two years later, she continued part-time work until August 31, 1935. In 1938, the university named her professor emeritus of Latin.
Professor Johnston was affectionately known as “Miss Eva.” She built a house in Columbia and for several years shared it with a talented German artist, Gertrude “Trudy” Heinrici, who painted Eva’s portrait. Eva filled her home with European furnishings. She displayed Ms. Heinrici’s paintings as well as her unusual collection of antique Latin books. Eva was always interested in her students and entertained them in her home.
A tall and quiet, yet adventurous person, Eva Johnston had an unusually alert mind and a keen sense of humor. She could laugh at her own absent-mindedness and told entertaining stories about learning to drive her Model T Ford and riding a camel in Egypt. Despite suffering from heart disease in later years, Eva remained active. She fulfilled her early childhood dream of travel by crossing the Atlantic Ocean over twenty times. She toured the Mediterranean at the age of seventy-four.
An Esteemed Organizer
Professor Johnston also devoted time to local and national organizations. In 1907, she was one of a small group who organized the Columbia Branch of the American Association of University Women, known at that time as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. She became its first president and maintained her membership for over thirty years. She served as university counselor for the national AAUW.
The Columbia Branch of AAUW established an annual scholarship award for a University of Missouri student who is from a Boone County high school. After the death of Professor Johnston, it was designated the Eva Johnston Scholarship Award.
Eva Johnston died on November 30, 1941, in Columbia. She is buried in the family plot in the New Salem Cemetery near Ashland. In June of 1951, the Eva Johnston Hall, a freshman women’s residence hall, was named in her honor. Her portrait hung for many years in Johnston Hall and is now located in the university archives.
Research and Text by Carlynn Trout
Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. 2 vols. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989, 1993. Vol. 1: 55–56.