Willie Sue Smith Stewart: The Last Remaining College Classmate of Ronald Reagan Dies

Proud Eureka men, with "Dutch" Reagan on the right.
Proud Eureka men, with "Dutch" Reagan on the right.

Ronald Reagan was born in 1911, so you might be surprised to learn his college classmates included blacks.

One of those was a Houstonian, Willie Sue Smith Stewart, and she died here Wednesday at the age of 101.

Eureka College president J. David Arnold told the Bloomington Pentagraph, "Willie Sue Smith Stewart had a long and distinguished postgraduate career as an educator after coming north as a young African American woman from Houston, Texas, to study 'neath the elms at Eureka College,"

He said "she shared stories about taking classes with 'Dutch' Reagan, including that she passed notes between 'Dutch' and his girlfriend Margaret Cleaver."

Stewart also received a master's degree from UT.

On her 100th birthday, Eureka alumni organized a get-well card drive for her, noting that she had been bedridden for the past five years.

Reagan was a popular student at Eureka, a small private Disciples of Christ college in the middle of Illinois.

In Dutch, Edmund Morris's flawed but fascinating biography of Reagan, Stewart is only mentioned in an oblique way, in one of the weirdest sentences in the annals of presidential biography.

Morris famously created a fictional character to tell the story, and that character describes the sexiness of Eureka's female students.

"How delicious they were in their loose, short, low-belt dresses and breasty blouses, bare necks warm with beads!" he writes, and then names five of them.

And then he writes this: "Incongruous among all these flowers of the Caucasus, yet accepted as utter naturalness as far as I could see, were three or four...well, in my diary I wrote 'negresses.'"

"Flowers of the Caucasus"?


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