Mansfield’s Matron of Music: Grace Steadman
When the music department at Mansfield State College moved from the old Arts Building (now Elliott Hall), it was obvious that a new theater would be needed. Most musical performances had been held in Straughn Auditorium next door. However, the new Butler Music Center is quite a distance away from Straughn and it is difficult to move all of that equipment for performances. It was decided that Butler Music Center and World Cultures Building should include a full theater. The theater was named for one of Dr. Butler’s colleagues, Grace Steadman.
Grace E. Crocker was born June 10, 1872 in Fort Wayne, Ind. She attended schools in Middletown and Cincinnati. Later she attended the Cincinnati Conservancy of Music, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the Kearney State Normal School (now the University of Nebraska at Kearney). She earned her bachelor’s degree in music at Cornell University.
Miss Crocker became Mrs. Steadman when she married Joseph Steadman in 1891 in Clarinda, Iowa.
Mrs. Steadman served at Kearney from 1903 until 1921. While taking extra course work at Cornell, she studied under Dr. Hollis Dann. Dr. Dann was the head of music education in Pennsylvania at the time and wrote numerous music textbooks. Dr. Dann recognized Mrs. Steadman’s ability and recommended her for the position of director of music at Mansfield State Teacher’s College. In 1921, she left Nebraska and came to Mansfield State Normal School. Grace and Joseph settled in the Elk Run area of Sullivan Township. They had two children, Angus and Grace.
Mrs. Steadman was recognized not only for her exceptional ability to teach music, but also her charming personality, friendly disposition, and broad-mindedness. She directed a number of the musical performance groups at Mansfield, including the men’s chorus and women’s chorus, as well as many special and seasonal performances. A number of the campus performances were broadcasted on local radio stations, bringing regional attention to the Mansfield music department.
One particularly notable performance was held in 1935, when enrollment at Mansfield stood at 550 students. The burlesque opera “Cleopatra” was under the personal supervision of Mrs. Steadman. The opera is set on a college campus and features an all-male cast. In the opera, William is enamored with Cleopatra, who was portrayed by Professor John Myers (Myers Band Field). William competes against the football hero, Anthony, the gigolo Pompey, and the ex-athlete Caesar for Cleopatra’s affections. “The trickery which he (William) employs to win her affections and the complications which ensue are highly amusing,” the Wellsboro Gazette reported Jan. 31, 1935. “The musical score is ear-tickling; the libretto side-splitting.”
Most importantly, though, Mrs. Steadman worked with other notable figures like Will George Butler and John Myers to upgrade the music curriculum at Mansfield. The year before Grace Steadman arrived in Pennsylvania, Mansfield was named as one of three normal schools to be the primary trainers of music supervisors. The other two were Indiana and West Chester.
In 1923, Mansfield started requiring auditions for enrollment and general education courses for graduation. By 1926, the music course had been extended to four years and Mansfield offered a Bachelors of Science in Public School Music. Mansfield was the only state school to offer that degree at the time. The following year, Mansfield officially became Mansfield State Teacher’s College.
In addition to her work teaching on campus, Mrs. Steadman also took an interest in the education of local youths, particularly those attending the “rural schools.” The rural schools were the one-room school houses located outside of the major towns like Mansfield and Wellsboro. The rural schools were of particular interest to educators since they typically had fewer resources than the schools in town. In 1924, just three years after Mrs. Steadman moved to Mansfield, the state legislature added music to the rural school curriculum. She was instrumental in starting the music program at the Middlebury Township rural school and she and four assistants from Mansfield Normal School traveled there once a week to oversee implementation of music education there. Other newspaper accounts noted that she did similar work at other local schools.
One of Mrs. Steadman’s memberships was the Wellsboro Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and she often provided music for meetings of that group. She also provided music for various other functions, including Mansfield commencement, the county teacher’s institute, PTA meetings, entertainment for World War I vets at the local CCC camps, and the Wellsboro Choral Society. The choral society was formed in September, 1927 and Mrs. Steadman made plans to attend their meetings once a month. She was also a member of the Mansfield Literary Exchange and the Mansfield Methodist Church.
Steadman also made a name for herself outside of Tioga County. Her positions and memberships included music director of the state federation of music, president of the music section of the Pennsylvania State Educational Association, and a member of Lambda Mu music fraternity.
In 1937, Mrs. Steadman became a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma honorary fraternity. That organization, which still operates today, honors notable female educators. Mrs. Steadman was the first Pennsylvania resident to be awarded membership in that organization.
After many successful years teaching at Mansfield, Mrs. Steadman became ill and retired March 1, 1939. She passed away Dec. 19, 1940 at the old Blossburg State Hospital. Her obituary noted that many of her students went on to obtain important positions in the field of music.
Following her death, Mansfield State College passed a resolution honoring her. The resolution was reprinted in the Wellsboro Agitator and reads in part, “Tireless in her efforts to promote the best interests of our college, deeply loyal in her personal friendships, unselfishly devoted to the well-being of her many students, Mrs. Steadman made at once an important place for herself within the college, as well as in the larger community.” The tribute continued, “Her colleagues knew her as a personal friend, as well as an efficient teacher, organizer, and director, one on whom we quickly learned to depend for counsel, understanding, sympathy, and help.” The committee to write the tribute included Dr. Arthur T. Belknap (Belknap Hall), Miss Alice Doane (Doane Center), Cora Atwater, Marjorie Brooks, Elizabeth Morales, Blanche Ross, and Dr. Elizabeth Swan.
Butler Music Center and Steadman Auditorium opened in 1969, giving the music department a home separate from the home economics department. The auditorium, which is the venue for scores of performances every year, seats 550, but only 549 seats can be occupied as there is always a seat left open for Mrs. Steadman.