Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Women in Leadership Spotlight: Mary B. Peirce

As we celebrate Women in Leadership as part of our 150th anniversary, we honor a true pioneer in adult education and a pivotal figure in Peirce’s rich history, Mary B. Peirce.

Mary B. Peirce, the eldest daughter of Thomas May Peirce, became the third principal of Peirce school when she assumed the role in 1898. She holds the distinction of the longest serving principal at Peirce College, having held the position for 62 years until her death in 1960.
Mary B. Peirce, a true pioneer in adult education
and a pivotal figure in Peirce College history

Being aware of the prejudice during the time period against women holding positions of power, she initially had misgivings about accepting the position. However, after encouragement from prominent businessmen such as John Wanamaker and Boise Penrose along with other friends of her father, she accepted the position. Nonetheless, she still adopted the practice of using only her initials, M.B. to disguise her femininity.

Mary Peirce was highly educated having attended Philadelphia High School for Girls and as a graduate of Dickinson College. However, she had little administrative experience and thus would delegate out some of the day-to-day operations to school director, Louis B. Moffett.

During her time at Peirce, the school would see growth and expansion in all areas, from enrollment to curriculum and even international relations. She played an instrumental role in guiding the school into the 20th century, and led the school through pivotal events such as the Depression, both World Wars, and technological advancements on a scale the world had never seen before.

Among many achievements, Mary Peirce was responsible for the creation of the Spanish-American department at Peirce, the establishment of the Information Department, which was “maintained not only for the benefit of its graduates and former students, but for the general public as well,” and in 1915, the move to Peirce’s current location at 1420 Broad St. An innovator in her time, she established the Advertising course in 1901, the Secretarial course in 1910, and Peirce’s new two-year option in 1920. 

Learn more about this influential leader of Peirce College who introduced many changes that evolved the school in order to better meet the contemporary needs of working adults, by visiting her 150th Anniversary, “Many Leaders, One Purpose” page.