The Shipley Magazine

Margaret Bailey Speer: Headmistress 1944-1965

Trina Vaux '63
Margaret Bailey Speer came to Shipley from China, where she had a distinguished 15-year career as a teacher and administrator at Yenching University in Peking (now Beijing). In 1941, the invading Japanese Army closed the university and sent Western nationals, including university staff, to internment camps. This experience, along with her background in a family of Presbyterian educators and missionaries, gave Miss Speer unique credibility and infused her teaching and administrative style. She was global before “globalism” was a thing, with her deep, clear-eyed understanding of the human condition.

At Shipley, Miss Speer reinforced the School’s traditional emphasis on character as well as intellectual excellence. Students knew that she cared if they failed math, but that she really cared if they failed to tell the truth. In the 1963-64 school catalogue, she wrote: “Our purpose is… to develop understanding, compassion, courage, a fierce sense of justice, a consuming desire for involvement in the world’s problems.”

With a delicate balance of high expectations and compassion, Miss Speer taught through parables and humor, moving from the small—holding the door for others—to the large—taking responsibility, working for peace and justice. It was she who pressed the trustees to admit African-American students to Shipley. As head of what was then a girls’ school, Margaret Bailey Speer was a strong role model for women to live lives of purpose and service. She was truly, as some alumnae have dubbed her, a “Missionary to the Main Line.”

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.