Clara Meisner made quite an impression on her colleagues, her students, and fellow educators during her long tenure at Central. In fact, when she died in 1937, at the age of 60, a special fund was set up to honor her contributions and raise money for a tribute sculpture.
The daughter of a druggist, Meisner was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1877. She studied teaching at the Chicago Teachers College and Chicago University before transferring to Columbia University in New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and master of arts degree.
Following her graduation, Meisner worked for several years in school in Iowa and Illinois before accepting a position at Washington State Normal School (now known as CWU) in 1906.
At the normal school, Meisner, who held the title of associate professor of education, taught German and was the early childhood education director. It was in that role, which she continued throughout the rest of her life, that she became a strong advocate for public kindergarten education.
Highly respected as an expert on early childhood education, she successfully advocated for public funding for kindergarten programs throughout the state of Washington and her work became a model for the nation.
She was active with a number of professional organizations, including the National Educational Association, the Association of Childhood Education, the Washington Education Association, and the Progressive Educational Association.
In Ellensburg, she organized and sponsored the local Mother’s Club, helped establish the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, and organized and sponsored Kappa Pi, an organization for students studying kindergarten and primary school teaching.
After her death, adoring students and colleagues raised funds to purchase a sculpture, titled, “Affection,” by noted modernist artist William Zorach.
According to an article in the Campus Crier student newspaper, “The original, in black marble, was placed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City at a cost of $8,000. Through the constant efforts of Miss [Amanda] Hebeler, William Zorach, the author of “Affection,” kindly consented to allow Robinson Galleries of New York City to reproduce this piece as a special price to cover the cost of casting and transportation.”
The sculpture was formally dedicated on June 10, 1938, and placed in the foyer of the College Elementary School (now known as Hebeler Hall). It still stands in a recessed corridor facing the north entrance of Hebeler Hall.
In 1966, the university named one of its newest residence halls in Meisner’s honor. Part of the Bassetti complex of residence hall buildings, Meisner Hall is a three-story brick structure built in the late century Modern architectural style. Noted Seattle architect Fred Bassetti designed the all six of the Bassetti complex buildings on CWU’s Ellensburg campus.
The building has been renovated several times over the years, including in 1982, when stairway exit doors were replaced, and 2006, when fire and life safety systems were installed.