Remembering the Webster University Women Studies program founder


Martha Kohl remembered her mother as a person who wanted to give back to the communities in which she studied. Once, Martha Kohl said, Seena Kohl brought the daughter of a family she stayed with doing field work in Saskatchewan, Canada, to live in St. Louis. Martha Kohl remembers the girl stayed with her family for a year.

“Their daughter, for complicated reasons, wanted to get out of that small town,” Martha Kohl said. “She went to high school in St. Louis and lived with my family because, you know, reciprocity. How many people do that?”

Seena Kohl was a professor of Anthropology at Webster University for 42 years. During her time at the university, she helped establish the Women Studies program. Seena Kohl passed away on June 16, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Family and friends gathered in Sunnen Lounge on July 21, to remember her life and the impact she made on the university. Don Conway-Long, a now-retired professor of Anthropology at Webster, spoke at the memorial. He said Seena Kohl was one of two people who first hired him at Webster.

“Between the two of them, they kind of guided me through what Webster meant and how to function as a Webster professor,” Conway-Long said. “She certainly provided that for me.”

Conway-Long remembered Seena Kohl for challenging anyone who was anti-feminist or unscientific. He recalled how she would tell him stories about students who presented those arguments in class and how she would always stress a need to teach those students.

Conway-Long said Seena Kohl taught him about science in relation to anthropology while working at Webster. He said he applied what he learned from her to his own classes.

“What we do is scientifically based; there a process we must use,” Conway-Long said. “That’s the thing that I associate with Seena. That’s the way I approached my classes. ”

Danielle MacCartney, a professor of Sociology at Webster, said Seena Kohl was a mentor for her when she was first hired. Her office was right across the hall from Seena Kohl’s, and MacCartney said Seena Kohl was always there to answer any questions she had about the university.

“She would, from time to time, invite the the faculty in Anthropology and Sociology over at her house,” MacCartney said, “She made me feel like I was welcome in her home, in her life and at the university.”

Martha Kohl recalled while her mother was busy as a professor, she was able to separate herself from her work while at home. She said Seena Kohl would schedule her classes so she could be there when her children got home from school and was fully present while with them.

Martha Kohl said Seena Kohl was incredibly proud of the work she accomplished at Webster. One of her passions, Martha Kohl said, was supporting homemakers and non-traditional students in making the transition to the university.

“She worked to help [non-traditional students] get the classes that they needed,” Martha Kohl said. “She worked to help them find opportunities.”

Martha Kohl said she felt her mother’s work was so meaningful, a scholarship is being funded in her honor for unconventional students at the university. Donations can be made to the Dr. Seena B. Kohl Memorial Endowed Scholarship on Webster’s website.

“[Non-traditional students were] the population that she really loved working with,” Marth Kohl said.

Shawn Wall started attending Webster when he was 23. A non-traditional student, Wall said he came in having no idea what he wanted to do as a career.

“When I went back to school, I wasn’t focused on a career because I had no idea what I wanted to pull off,” Wall said. “But I knew that I wanted to learn.”

Wall said he took an anthropology class in order to fulfill his last general education credit. Within two weeks of the class, he said, he added anthropology as a major.

Wall took two classes with Seena Kohl over his time at Webster. He also worked as a student employee in her department. Wall said she was always willing to answer questions and help non-traditional students at the university.

“She let you discover what you needed to discover,” Wall said. “She was really good at facilitating and being a container for your own self discovery.”

MacCartney said Seena Kohl’s influence on the Anthropology & Sociology department is still felt within the program. She said Seena Kohl taught her colleagues not to use their jobs as anthropologists to simply examine problems.

“As anthropologists, our job is not just to analyze the world but to change it,” MacCartney said. “She helped to embody that.”


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