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Dr. Beverly Vaughn '69: The Confidence to Excel

Kristina M. Jenkins

In the early 1960s, when Dr. Beverly Vaughn ’69 attended Shipley, the school was quite a different place.

Then, Shipley was an all-girls institution, and Vaughn was the sole African-American student in her class—both aspects of campus life that have since given way to practices of diversity. For Vaughn, though, neither her unique status nor the single-sex student body kept her from embracing Shipley as a second home. “I fell in love with the school,” she says.

Philadelphia born and raised, Vaughn was attending the Julia R. Masterman School, a magnet school in Center City Philadelphia, when the opportunity to attend Shipley arose. “At that time, the administration at Shipley was trying to integrate the student body, so they were looking for African-American students,” says Vaughn. “Even though Masterman was, and still is, a premier secondary school, my parents felt that Shipley would afford me an even better education.”

Matriculating in the eighth grade, Vaughn recalls a swift-but-substantial acclimatization to life at Shipley. As the first African-American student in her class in an era of tremendous cultural change, Vaughn did encounter some challenges. “There were some hurtful racist things that were said to me—by kids, not the teachers—but I didn’t let it get too much under my skin,” she says. “My parents lived in a very integrated world, and I grew up in an integrated world.”

Once Vaughn negotiated the social landscape, though, and certainly after she became a boarder in ninth grade, she was able to concentrate on her academic studies and embrace the style of critical and creative thinking that remains paramount to Shipley’s educational mission. “There was much more weight put on independent thinking and discovery,” says Vaughn of the perceptible difference between Shipley and her public schooling. “One of the things I really appreciated about the Shipley education was that you had to think, and you were valued for being smart,” she says.

Always a dedicated student, Vaughn naturally connected with a number of teachers during her tenure at Shipley, but perhaps most so with Margaret Bailey Speer, who served as Shipley’s Head of School for more than two decades. “She brought with her a richness of experience, and I think she really wanted to inculcate that in her students,” says Vaughn.

After graduating in 1969, Vaughn took the smarts she developed at Shipley and attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where she crafted her own major with the intention of pursuing a master’s degree in dance therapy, combining her love of modern dance with her interest in studying psychology. But once Vaughn began working at the Planned Parenthood on the Oberlin campus for counseling experience, her goals began to shift. “It was more interesting for me to read and learn the medical piece, as opposed to the psychological piece,” she says.

Thus, Vaughn’s love of science, combined with her burgeoning interest in women’s medicine and her desire for a highly esteemed career, led her to set aside dance therapy in favor of pursuing a medical degree with a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology. 

“The healthcare of women was really important to me,” says Vaughn, whose interest in advocating for women was right in line with the start of the women’s liberation movement. “Women’s health had been put on the back burner. There was not as much research done in women’s health as in other areas. We were the underdogs,” she says.

Returning to Philadelphia, Vaughn dove in to women’s healthcare, earning her medical degree from Temple University's School of Medicine in 1978, completing an internship and residency at Pennsylvania Hospital between 1978 and 1982. From 1982 to 1984, Dr. Vaughn fulfilled a scholarship obligation with the U.S. Public Health Service at a clinic in Germantown.

From the start, Vaughn intuitively knew a specialty in gynecology would fulfill her career goals, and more than 20 years later, she stands as a lauded practitioner in her field, earning nods as a top doctor from such publications as Essence, Philadelphia Magazine, and U.S. News and World Report.

Now, Vaughn wears multiple hats, juggling a longstanding private practice and a role as medical coordinator of Main Line Health’s online “Menopause and You” program. Additionally, Vaughn teaches, serving as medical director of the resident clinic and associate director of ob/gyn residency program at Lankenau Hospital. She also holds the position of Clinical Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson University. “I have learned so much in taking on those roles that I never knew before, and I think it has enriched my experience,” she says.

As a teacher, Vaughn aims to relay the subject at hand to her students in an accessible way, and strives to actively engage each aspiring doctor. She still firmly believes in the participatory learning style practiced at Shipley. “You have to be an active participant in your education,” says Vaughn, “otherwise you’re only going to get what someone hands you, and you’re going to miss out.”

As the coordinator of “Menopause and You,” Vaughn knows that knowledge is key, too. “We think about what we want our patients to know, because it’s really about educating the consumer,” she says. What began simply with an online presence of accessibly written articles about maturing women authored by specialists, has now evolved into a multimedia site with articles, video interviews, and more.

Both in-person and online education have been a natural evolution of Vaughn’s practice, particularly when it comes to menopause advocacy. “Once again, there was that underserved area that interested me,” she says.

Dr. Vaughn acknowledges that there can be adversity facing any minority, but she refused to allow negativity to define her experience and simply followed her interests. “There are always going to be small-minded people, and I am not going to let small-minded people diminish me or my quality of life,” she says.

Truly, at the core of her distinguished career may be a confidence and sense of self that Vaughn established at Shipley. “In my family, it didn’t matter that I was a girl. Everyone was expected to become a professional,” she says, “and Shipley’s philosophy of excellence fit right in.”
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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.