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A Purposeful Vision: Margaret Bailey Speer and Yenching University

After Yenching: Late Life

After leaving Yenching, MBS was offered a position as headmistress of the Shipley School, a prestigious girls' boarding school1 across the street from Bryn Mawr College. Throughout her late career and beyond, she focused her ambitions on human rights and improving access to education--one of the achievements of her time at the Shipley school was the instrumental role she played in opening the school to African American students. Though she retired in 1965, a note from the class bulletin jokingly reads: “This winter, though no longer Head Mistress of Shipley School she has tutored 2 Japanese girls, run a program whereby 45 Negro 4th graders have been tutored by 45 teen-agers, and chaired the local Human Relations Council. She did go off in April for 1 week in the Virgin islands, and May found her at her Connecticut home, putting in a garden. So perhaps she is ‘retired’, after all.” (MBS’s comments on her retirement were “I’m not quite used to this freedom yet and feel a little guilty about not feeling guilty.”) She also continued to seek out new opportunities to pioneer leadership, becoming (along with one other) among the first two women to serve on the Session, the governing body of the Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr.

MBS also did her best to maintain the connections she had forged at Yenching, despite significant obstacles. For many years any communication with her friends in China was impossible, due to rising Chinese hostility towards foreigners and the antipathy of the West towards Communism in the McCarthy years and after. In the class bulletin from 1968, she writes of a trip to Honolulu in which she and Augusta were invited by former Yenching students. “They are American citizens of Chinese ancestry who had their college training in Peking and are now physicians, college professors, bankers, business leaders and school teachers in Honolulu. It is nearly thirty years since we had seen most of them and it was heart-warming to find them all such interesting, intelligent, public-spirited, and if I may use such an old-fashioned word, good people.” MBS managed one two-day return trip to Yenching with a group from Shipley and a smattering of Bryn Mawr alums in 1979, three years after Augusta’s death. There she was finally able to reunite with many people that she had been out of touch with since the communication barrier between the two countries.

In the communities that she participated in, MBS took initiative to eradicate barriers and push progress. Her contributions were consistently recognized, and she was clearly held in high-esteem. She passed away in 1997.

1 Shipley has since become a day school, and is now co-educational.