Behind The Name:
Margaret Bell Miller Middle School
By Candice Lynn Buchanan
When Waynesburg College was established in 1849, the founders also planned for a Female Seminary to educate female students separately from their male counterparts in Waynesburg College. Like Margaret's alma mater, the women in this divided system would receive only diplomas, while the men would receive degrees. Margaret was brought in to lead the female school as its very first principal and teacher. From the beginning, she must have showed the great promise she would deliver, for in the summer of 1850, even as so many other pieces were falling into place for the birthing of the institution, Joshua Loughran, the first President of Waynesburg College, ended a speech to his future students and the community, by promising, “Wait till Miss Bell comes, and then we will do great things.”* He was right.
Under her guidance and careful influence, the separate and unequal idea, though it had been the initial intent, lasted only one year. Classes began according to plan in November 1850 with Margaret teaching the ladies on the second floor of a building known as the Green House; while the men received their education on the second floor of the Hayes Building on the present site of the Messenger Building. The gradual onset of co-education began the next year when in November 1851 when all students, male and female alike, moved into classrooms in the newly completed College building, which we now know as Hanna Hall. Though in separate classrooms at first, a combination of policy, forward thinking and Margaret’s inspirational leadership and hard work eventually put men and women scholars side by side at the blackboards and pronouncing their recitations to the same professors. The first three women to graduate in 1852 received diplomas as planned, but just five years later in 1857 three more women stood up to receive Bachelor’s Degrees. By this incredible accomplishment, Margaret's students became the first women in the entire state of Pennsylvania to receive college degrees. In just seven years Margaret had applied her capable heart and mind to transforming the female educational system.
Her personal life was as much a part of Waynesburg College as was her professional life. Margaret's marriage to Alfred Brashear Miller in March 1855 created the partnership that would ensure the survival and growth of the institution. A. B. Miller had been present at the College from the first day of classes as a student in 1850, to his graduation as the valedictorian of the first male class in 1853, to his appointment as Professor of Mathematics that fall. In 1859, he became President of the financially struggling school. With Margaret toiling equally at his side, he guided the College through the difficult times ahead and steered it back toward prosperity.
Margaret was a living example of the working mother in a day when it was almost unheard of. At the time Alfred was appointed Waynesburg College President, Margaret was already the mother of two little girls and by all rights and social norms should have limited herself to house and home, but perhaps because of those very girls, Margaret never stopped teaching or promoting women’s rights to fair education. She taught classes six to seven hours a day, performed the duties of leadership as her husband’s partner, and also the responsibilities of wife, mother and hostess in a College President’s house.
Margaret was the mother of eight children, a wife of nineteen years, a teacher and a leader of twenty-four years, when on the evening of February 10, 1874, probably from sheer exhaustion, she suffered a stroke that suddenly silenced her powerful voice and restricted her active body to her bed. Her respected role as mentor, educator, friend, partner and parent ended on April 27, 1874 at just forty-seven years of age. Her oldest child was just eighteen years old, and her youngest not yet two. Her death was a great loss to many and her funeral was the most attended of any to that date in Waynesburg.
The College alumni recognized Margaret's self-sacrifice and her remarkable impact on their lives; together they raised funds to purchase a tombstone and place it at her grave in Green Mount Cemetery, the inscription reads, “Erected by the Alumni Association of Waynesburg College as a memorial of the noble woman and devoted teacher who gave the best twenty four years of her life to the work of building up the institution of which she was the pride and ornament.”
Margaret lived to see her eldest daughter enroll in a co-educational Waynesburg College; one can only imagine what joy Margaret must have felt in heaven on that day in 1876 when Lida Miller accepted her bachelor’s degree, probably from the hand of her father, Alfred, still College President.
On June 1,
legacy was renewed when the new high school building
was given her name.
However, the familiar “Waynesburg High School” never
gave way to the namesake
and the initials M. B. M. were largely ignored.
Years later, when the building
was renamed Margaret Bell Miller Middle School, the
name, perhaps simply
for its new found alliteration, this time,
*Quotations from: Martha (Bayard) Howard, "Mrs. Margaret Kerr Bell Miller" article, Women's Centennial Paper 1796-1896, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 26 August 1896–27 August 1896, page 3, column 1-3. Howard was Margaret's student in the first class of women to graduate from the Waynesburg College Female Seminary, Class of 1852.
web site has been compiled by Candice Buchanan <email@example.com>
W. Franklin St.; Waynesburg, PA 15370).
Data sources documented whenever possible. Contributors credited for shared information. Questions, feedback and contributions welcome.
Copyright © 2003-2008 Candice Buchanan. All rights reserved.