In Memoriam: Mary Frances Wagley, 1927-2020

Mary Frances Wagley, a longtime educator and the first woman to be a member of the MIT Corporation and the first woman to serve as president of the MIT Alumni Association, died at her home in Cockeysville, Maryland, on November 1. She was 93 years old.

Dr. Wagley was a native of New York City but grew up on a farm in White Plains, New York. Her father was James Cash Penney, the founder of the department store chain bearing his name.

Wagley entered MIT during World War II. She and a friend, Emily Wade, lived off campus and cooked for themselves because there were no dormitories or dining facilities for women on the MIT campus. Starting out as a chemical engineering major, Wagley was not able to participate in the required chemical engineering summer camp because of her gender, and she was asked to change her major to chemistry, which she did.

After graduating from MIT, Wagley went directly to Oxford University, earning a doctoral degree there in physical chemistry. At the time of her return to the United States, she had two employment offers, in research at Princeton University and teaching at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She accepted the offer at Smith College.

Later in career, Dr. Wagley served on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College, both in Baltimore. Then, in 1966, she became head of St. Paul’s School for Girls, an independent college-preparatory school in Brooklandville, Maryland.

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