About Southeast Missouri State University

Founded in 1873, Southeast Missouri State University has a proud history of excellence in education. First founded as a teacher’s college, the institution has grown into a comprehensive University with more than 200 areas of study among five colleges and four schools.

Academic Hall, the copper-domed building which sits in the middle of campus on the highest hill in Cape Girardeau, was built on the site of a Civil War Fort. Completed in 1905, Academic Hall was constructed to replace the Normal School building that was destroyed by fire in 1902. It was originally the primary structure on the campus, containing classrooms, a gymnasium and the library.

In 1899, Southeast’s fifth president, Willard Vandiver, coined the phrase “show me,” which became our unofficial state motto. The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Vandiver who became a U.S. Congressman after his Southeast presidency. Vandiver served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia. In a speech there, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." Regardless of whether Vandiver coined the phrase, it is certain that his speech helped to popularize the saying.

The Missouri state flag was first created in Cape Girardeau, very near the University campus. The flag was designed and created by Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, wife of former State Senator R.B. Oliver. It was adopted as the official state flag by the state legislature in 1913.

The steep hill above the Towers complex on campus is known as “cardiac hill” because the football team formerly sprinted up it during training, and they often complained at the end of the day that they felt like they were going to have a heart attack from the strenuous trek up the hill.

At the top of “cardiac hill,” there is a tree upon which students have placed their used chewing gum for many years, earning it the title of “Gum Tree.” The original Gum Tree died and was replaced in 1989, and students have been honoring its successor with their chewing gum ever since.  The current “Gum Tree” is actually a redbud (Cercis canadensis).  Horticulture students want to replace it with a black gum (Nyssa sylvatica).

With more than 150 social and special interest organizations, NCAA Division 1 Athletics (Ohio Valley Conference), 10 national fraternities and eight national sororities, students easily find ways to spend their free time.

Southeast’s mascot is Rowdy the Redhawk, and the school colors are red and black.


The River Campus is the only campus dedicated solely to art, dance, music and theatre in Missouri.  Unlike many universities that house these disciplines in facilities across campus, Southeast provides a unique opportunity for artists of all talents to spend time and work together on a daily basis and in the same space.  The River Campus opened in 2007 and houses the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall, the Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum, the John and Betty Glenn Convocation Center, the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre and the Robert F. and Gertrude L. Shuck Music Recital Hall as well as the historic Seminary Building.  In Fall 2014, in order to meet growing demand, the Kenneth & Jeanine Dobbins River Campus Center opened.  River Campus is home to the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts a world-class entertainment venue for student and touring performances.


Between the Mississippi River and Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus, you can find the registered Missouri state champion American beech (Fagus grandifolia).  The location was once part of the Old St. Vincent’s Seminary, which is now part of the River Campus.  The American beech tree is over 200 years old, and may have been alive at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  At the last reported measurement, the tree was 109 feet tall with a spread of 97 feet and a circumference of 209 inches.  Hundreds of couples have been married under this tree, and hundreds more engaged there.  Cape Girardeau is located along the western edge of the American beech’s natural range, where beech-maple forests transition to oak-hickory forests.  There are 39 Missouri State Champion Trees in southeast Missouri, including many champion oaks and hickories.  In addition to the champion American Beech, Cape Girardeau County also hosts the state champion pignut hickory (Carya glabra) and eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana).


Crisp Museum is located inside Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus at 518 S. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701. Admission is free to the fine art gallery and history gallery.  A video in the museum's theatre highlights southeast Missouri's heritage.