Wednesday, August 6, 2014

E before I: The Founding Family of Peirce College.

Every September at Peirce, we celebrate Founder’s Day in honor of Thomas May Peirce, who founded the College (then called Union Business College) in 1865. He would be the first of many Peirce family members to run the College; for well over a century someone in the Peirce family led the school.

Thomas May Peirce I
Thomas May Peirce was not yet 30 years old when he founded Union Business School, but he already had established himself as a leader and innovator in the Philadelphia education community. The son and grandson of teachers, Thomas May Peirce graduated from Central High in 1858 with a post-secondary certificate, and after a period of travel and exploration, began teaching in Philadelphia. He quickly rose to the position of principal at Mount Vernon Grammar School, working closely with students to ensure they would do well on their high school entrance exams. Peirce’s dedication to student success led him to found his own school in 1865 to educate returning Civil War soldiers and others for business positions that would need to be filled in post-war Philadelphia and beyond. 

The Peirce family came to Pennsylvania in the same time period as William Penn, and as Quakers who later converted to Methodism, they believed strongly in the value of education for both men and women. Thus, Union Business College’s first graduating class was co-educational, a rarity for the time period. Peirce worked to distinguish Union in other ways as well, including adherence to a strict policy of academic honesty, and skills-based learning. Though many schools promising a business education opened up after the Civil War, part of the success of Peirce was TMP’s insistence on providing an education that was immediately applicable in the professional world.

Mary B. Peirce
When Thomas May Peirce passed away in May of 1894, his wife Ruth Strong Peirce took over the reins of the college as Principal. She would hold the position for two years until her death, when the Peirce’s daughter Mary Bisbing Peirce would take over, running the school until her death in 1960. Mary Peirce was a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls and Dickinson College, but had little administrative experience. She delegated some of the day to day operations to the school director, Louis B. Moffett, and focused on expanding the school’s programming and guiding the College into the 20th Century. One of Mary Peirce’s most successful ideas was the creation of Spanish-American Department, which brought in students from Latin America to receive business training and English language skills. New Spanish-speaking faculty were hired, and the program gained worldwide notoriety, with several notable (infamous even) graduates.   

Thomas May Peirce III
In 1946, Thomas May Peirce III, grandson of the founder and nephew of Mary Peirce joined the administration in a new position titled “Managing Partner, Chief Executive Officer.”  A graduate of both Peirce and Dartmouth, he had spent several years in business before returning to Peirce as an administrator. Peirce took on several projects, including recruiting military students through the G.I. Bill and turning the school into an accredited non-profit Junior College, paving the way to the institution we are now. He retired in 1981, ending the family’s 116 years at the College.