Saint Louis, MO

On the National Register of Historic Places: Dr. Herman S. Dreer House in St. Louis

CJ Coombs
Historic Dr. Herman S. Dreer House, St. Louis, Missouri.Photo byLittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Dr. Herman S. Dreer House located at 4335 Cote Brilliante Avenue in St. Louis City, Missouri is a historic building built in 1930. Located in The Ville neighborhood, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 20, 2009. As of 2012, the remainder of the city block was added to the Marshall School Neighborhood in The Ville Historic District

Dreer and his family lived in one of the units in the building from 1930 to 1952 and the second unit was used as a rental. Their children had ownership of the building until 2000 at which time it was sold.

The building

This historic place was the residence of Herman Dreer who was a nationally‐known educator, author, and civil rights activist. This is a two-story, two-family building carrying the Craftsman-style architecture.

The building was purchased by Dreer and his wife before it was built by the developer. It's believed that the building was the first Dr. Dreer had owned. Even after they moved, they kept the building for income property.

Dr. Herman S. Dreer

Dr. Dreer was a respectable educator in St. Louis and a nationally known author. The building is significant in its association with education, and the ethnic heritage of African Americans.

The years Dr. Dreer lived in the building were the most significant of his teaching career in St. Louis and the work he put into promoting the study and teaching of African-American history. He was also a prolific writer of non-fiction.

Dr. Dreer was born on September 12, 1888, in Washington, D.C. He had six siblings and he was a grandson of slaves. He ranked first in his class in high school and had the highest grade on a four-year-college entrance exam earning him a Teacher's Scholarship Award that was sponsored by Amherst College.

He attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and had already graduated within three years. In 1910, Dreer started teaching at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College in Lynchburg, Virginia. While in Lynchburg, Dreer received a Master’s Degree, and a year later, he was ordained a minister in the Baptist Church.

Dr. Dreer met his wife, Mary Thomas, at college, and they were married in 1912. They had two daughters. They moved to St. Louis in 1914 and Dr. Dreer accepted a teaching position at Sumner High School in The Ville. Supposedly, Dr. Dreer's attraction to St. Louis was the national reputation the high school received as being a foremost school for African Americans.

After a while, according to his daughter, Vivian, Dr. Dreer became the assistant principal of the school. He was also an Assistant Pastor for different Baptist congregations. For 19 years, he was the pastor of Kings Way Baptist Church.

In 1942, Dr. Dreer received his second master's in Sociology from the University of Chicago. He stayed at the high school until 1945. He then became a principal at the Stowe Teachers College.

In 1955, at 67, Dr. Dreer received a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago. His dissertation was entitled, Negro Leadership in St. Louis, a Study in Race Relations. He continued to teach at Stowe College until 1959 at which time he retired from the St. Louis Board of Education, or he was retired.

From 1960 to 1962, he taught Sociology and Anthropology at Kansas Wesleyan University. In 1963, he taught English at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois and in the following year, he taught at MacMurray College, also in Jacksonville. In 1968, when Dr. Dreer was 80, he ended his career at Kansas Wesleyan University and returned to St. Louis. He spent the next eight years writing and promoting African-American history in a newspaper column,

Because of Dr. Dreer's accomplishments and public service, he was appointed to the City of St. Louis Landmarks Commission by Mayor A.J. Cervantes in 1966. He was the first African-American member and served in that role for two years. Three years later, Dr. Dreer was honored with a testimonial dinner at the Gateway Hotel.

Dr. Herman S. Dreer died on August 7, 1981, at age 92. When he died, scholarships were created in his honor. The high school he taught at, Sumner High School, has also been added to the National Register.

In 1934, when Dr. Dreer was pursuing his second master's degree, he applied to St. Louis University and never received a response. When he applied to Washington University, he was told that while he was qualified to be accepted, they couldn't because the University of Missouri wouldn't accept Negroes. As a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Dreer had written about his experience attending Phi Beta Kappa events at Washington University and he was always the only person of color attending. Interestingly, after he submitted his application to Washington University, he wasn't invited to any more Phi Beta Kappa events.

That experience inspired and drove Dr. Dreer to re-open Douglass College in 1934 for African-Americans. The school was in a rented building and he was the president of the college. The school operated until 1942. A couple of years before that, the Stowe Teachers College for African Americans opened. Then, St. Louis University changed its admission policy. In 1948, Washington University also changed its policy.

Dr. Dreer wrote two novels: The Immediate Jewel of the Soul (1919) and The Tie That Binds (1955). He wrote many articles and also edited.

In 1948, McMillan Publishing Company contacted Dr. Dreer requesting he compile and edit an anthology of African-American writings. McMillan published American Literature by Negro Authors in 1950. In that same year, Dr. Dreer wrote and edited the first publication of the Metropolitan St. Louis Negro Dictionary, which was a collection of biographies of prominent African American leaders. Here's what Dreer wrote about his entry, He is a firm believer in Negro genius, Negro culture, the equality of races, and in Christianity.

Mary Jane Thomas Dreer died in November 1985, at age 94.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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