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A Purposeful Vision: Margaret Bailey Speer and Yenching University

Introduction and Early Life: Schooling

Emma Doll Bailey and Abby Slade Brayton at Tea in Denbigh

All of the Speer children followed in their parents’ choice of schools: Elliott and Bill, MBS’s older and younger brothers, respectively, studied at Princeton. MBS did not have the option of attending her father and brothers' alma mater, as coeducational institutions were still rare in the early 1900s. Though several prestigious schools had admitted both men and women from the start, such as Swarthmore College and Oberlin College, the vast majority of higher educational institutions were exclusively male. The Ivy Leagues would not begin to admit women until the late sixties, and would not be entirely coeducational until Columbia turned in 1983. MBS carried on family tradition by attending Bryn Mawr. Unlike her mother, however, she stuck the course and graduated in 1922.

Margaret Bailey Speer

MBS did not seem to feel a clash between her religious upbringing and her will to act boldly on behalf of women and others with unequal societal status. Though she may have honed her proclivity for leadership while at Bryn Mawr, she cites her mother as the original source of her self-identified feminism. In a June, 1983 interview, she is quoted as saying that “My feminism over the years has never been so much militant as just bred-in-the-bone. I had a mother who was a match for my father…Mother’s whole life was: ‘Women are important, and women are going to be important, and they’re going to be worth being important.’”1 Thus, though Emma Bailey Speer prematurely withdrew from her education in order to marry, she and her daughter lived their lives in ways that aggressively countered stereotypes of submissive femininity.

 

1. MBS interview, June 7, 1983.