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Speer Family papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: BMC-M72

Scope and Contents

The Speer Family papers contain, principally, the personal papers of Robert Elliott Speer and his immediate family members: his wife, Emma Bailey Speer, and his children, Margaret Bailey Speer, Elliott Speer, and William Speer. Also included in the collection are smaller groups of material from William McMurtrie Speer and Victor Speer, Robert Elliott’s brothers, Robert Milton Speer, Robert Elliott’s father, and Robert Speer, Robert Elliott’s grandfather. The collection, which ranges from 1802- 1982, primarily consists of correspondence between family members, but there are also diaries, account books, copies of speeches and addresses, and family photographs.

The collection is divided into eight series: “Series I: Genealogical and Biographical Material,” “Series II: Papers of Robert Elliott Speer,” “Series III: Papers of Emma Bailey Speer,” “Series IV: Papers of Margaret Bailey Speer,” “Series V: Papers of Elliott Speer,” “Series VI: Papers of William Speer,” “Series VII: Miscellaneous Material,” and “Series VIII: Satterthwaite Supplement.”

“Series I: Genealogical and Biographical Material” contains a large amount of genealogical and biographical material related to the Speer and Bailey families, including: genealogical charts of the Speer and Bailey families; material written on the Speer and Bailey family genealogies; “Recollections of My Father” and “Reminisces” by Robert Speer; biographical information on Robert Milton Speer, Robert Elliott Speer, and Emma Bailey Speer; memorial tributes to Robert Elliott Speer and Emma Bailey Speer; and clippings related to Robert Elliott Speer.

“Series II: Papers of Robert Elliott Speer” is divided into three subseries: “Robert Speer,” “Robert Milton Speer,” “and Robert Elliott Speer.” The subseries “Robert Speer” contains a bound volume containing land deeds and letters and a bound volume containing miscellaneous papers. The subseries “Robert Milton Speer” is primarily correspondence, both personal and professional, from circa 1860s-1880s. It also contains Robert Milton Speer’s receipts, including his children’s tuition bills and academic reports. The subseries “Robert Elliott Speer” comprises the bulk of this series. Robert Elliott Speer was a prolific letter writer, and this subseries contains an enormous amount of correspondence, largely with other family members. He wrote especially often to his daughter, Margaret Bailey Speer, and his wife, Emma Bailey Speer. Robert Elliott’s letters to his daughter, Margaret, deal primarily with family matters. However, subsequent to her departure for China in August 1925, his letters occasionally provide information on China and the China missions for which he was responsible. These letters number approximately 360, dated from September 1925 to July 1937. Robert Elliott’s letters to his daughter give an informal impression of events also described in his administrative reports. In his approximately 1400 letters to his wife, Emma, he describes his travels and events he participated in, speeches made at conferences and assemblies, the people he was meeting, and the larger themes of politics and religion. His letters show a remarkable perception of foreign cultures, with their problems and possibilities. While these two sets of letters are the bulk of the Robert Elliott Speer material in the collection, there are also numerous letters to all of his family; several published pamphlets; tributes and memorials; financial information; and some personal writings.

“Series III: Papers of Emma Bailey Speer” contains correspondence with her parents and other family members, talks and speeches, devotional material, diaries, and a large sampling of incoming letters from notable people, ranging from Herbert Hoover to M. Carey Thomas, which primarily address Emma Bailey’s professional goals as president of the YWCA. Letters sent from her time at Bryn Mawr College are notable for their descriptions of student life in the late 1800’s. The bulk of her letters, however, are correspondence with Robert Elliott over the course of their lives together; together, their letters number close to 3000. In Emma’s letters, she mostly spoke of daily life: the children’s activities, domestic crises, visits by friends, and her participation in the YWCA and other organizations. Additionally, she comments on politics, books she is reading, and cultural events she has attended.

“Series IV: Papers of Margaret Bailey Speer” consists largely of correspondence, which ranges from her time as a student at Bryn Mawr, to her missionary work in China, to her speeches and correspondence as the Shipley School headmistress, to her humanitarian work on the Main Line following her retirement. Her papers are largely personal, except for the Shipley era material, which takes on a decidedly professional tone: they mostly consist of her speeches to the students, parents, and alumnae (at the time, the school was all-girls), as well as an assortment of letters to various important figures, such as poet Marianne Moore, Bryn Mawr class of 1909, and Adlai Stevenson, asking them to visit and speak at the school. A folder of letters sent on her retirement and one of remembrances collected for Trina Vaux’s book, "Recollections of Margaret Bailey Speer," speaks to her formidable presence at the school. There are approximately 120 letters from her time at Bryn Mawr, which paint a fascinating picture of life at the school during the early 1920’s: M. Carey Thomas, professors, student activities, classmates, and scholarly work are all discussed in detail. Her letters from China provide insight into the country at the time. They describe her roles in the country, the volatile political climate on the eve of World War II, and the impact of those tensions and events on the students and the University. She also discusses her visitors, the struggle to keep the Women’s College independent, and the relationship of life at Yenching and the larger missionary movement. She provides, towards the end of her China letters, much insight into the situation “behind enemy lines,” expressing the frustration of trying to communicate her well-being to those at home.

“Series V: Papers of Elliott Speer” are representative of his short but productive life. They include letters to his parents through his years at Phillips, Princeton, and the University of Edinburgh, and show that he controlled his parent’s affairs while they were travelling abroad, arranged in chronological order. They include day-to-day accounts of his family life while in Edinburgh and wartime diaries from his time spent with the YMCA during World War I. His papers from his time at Mount Hermon indicate that he was a controversial figure among the school board’s older members: in 1929, the Chairman of the Board, William R. Moody, son of the school’s founder and Robert Elliott Speer’s early mentor Dwight L. Moody, resigned in protest over Elliott’s liberal philosophies towards the running of the school. However, the Speer and Moody families resolved their differences, and the plethora of tributes following Elliott’s untimely murder five years later indicate he was a very popular leader. The series also contains memorial materials organized by Robert Elliott Speer in preparation for his book “Memorial of Elliott Speer” (see Box 18a). “Series VI: Papers of William Speer” is primarily comprised of letters between William and his parents, from his time at Hotchkiss through the Princeton years and into his life in academia. These mostly detail daily events—his letters to his brother Elliott present some of his anxieties regarding finding a job after graduation. This series also includes letters from William’s wife, Elizabeth (Betty) to her in-laws, Robert Elliott and Emma, as well as some of Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey Speer’s correspondence with their daughter Constance (Pat).

“Series VII: Miscellaneous Material” contains two subseries “Photographs” and Miscellany.” “Photographs” consists of family photos, including loose Yenching photos and several family photo albums. “Miscellany” contains a variety of materials, including cassette tapes with oral histories; religious pamphlets; miscellaneous materials and letters; materials related to Robert Elliott Speer’s estate; remembrances of Robert Elliott Speer; and miscellaneous newspapers and letters.

“Series VIII: Satterthwaite Supplement,” named after its benefactor, Margaret Howard Speer Satterthwaite, is divided into four subseries: “Robert Milton Speer,” “William McMurtrie Speer (1865-1923),” “Margaret Howard Speer Satterthwaite,” and “Victor Speer (1872-1909).” The subseries “Robert Milton Speer” contains a large amount of correspondence with his wife, Martha Ellen McMurtrie Speer, from 1871-1875; his books; his speeches; his letters on politics; writings and poems; materials related to state politics; legal matters and bills; and materials related to his illness and death, including his will. The Satterthwaite supplement also contains material from Robert Milton Speer’s two sons, William McMurtrie and Victor, and his grand-daughter, Margaret Howard Speer Satterthwaite (William McMurtrie’s daughter). “William McMurtrie” consists primarily of correspondence, much of which is to his father and which chronicles his time at The Hill School, Yale, and later, at his different positions as a journalist. The subseries also contains letters to his mother, siblings, and other family members. “Margaret Howard Speer Satterthwaite” contains letters from Clara McMurtrie Speer, Robert Elliott Speer, Emma Bailey Speer, Mary Cowen Speer, Elliott Speer, and the Huntingdon High School Graduation Program. “Victor Speer” includes letters to his father and brothers William and Robert Elliott, as well as detailed reports of his academic and disciplinary problems while at Andover. They also include his writings and poems.

The Speer family was highly involved in both the Presbyterian Church and academic administration. This bulky collection provides a well-rounded view of four generations of the family, from missionary work to political careers. Since much of the material is personal correspondence between family members, it would be of tremendous worth to anyone interested in the Speers themselves, but it also has more general value to those interested in the Presbyterian Church circa the 19th-20th centuries; Protestant missionary work; Bryn Mawr College; Yale University; Princeton University; Yenching, China; World War I, etc.


  • Creation: 1802 - 1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1883 - 1943


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Speer Family papers are the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.

Biographical Note

The Speer Family papers cover four generations of the family, although the bulk of the material focuses on the last two, specifically on Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey Speer and their children. The papers begin, chronologically, with Robert Speer, an Irish immigrant and grandfather to Robert Elliott Speer. His son, Robert Milton Speer, was a Pennsylvania lawyer, politician, and Robert Elliott Speer’s father. The papers of Robert Elliott Speer, a well-known Presbyterian missionary of the early twentieth century, are the main connection between the different series; his brothers William McMurtrie Speer and Victor Speer, both journalists, have their own individual series. Robert Elliott’s wife, Emma Bailey Speer, attended Bryn Mawr College, associated with the class of 1894, and was the long-time president of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey’s children—Margaret Bailey Speer, Bryn Mawr College class of 1922, missionary, and school administrator, and Elliott and William Speer, also both school administrators—are represented as well. The papers of Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey Speer’s nuclear family make up the bulk of the collection.

Robert Elliott Speer (1867-1947) was the second of five children born to Robert Milton Speer and Martha Ellen McMurtrie Speer in Huntington, Pennsylvania. His grandfather, Robert Speer (1803-1852), immigrated to America from Ireland in 1822, became a U.S. citizen and eventually postmaster of Huntingdon. His father, Robert Milton Speer (1838-1890), was a Pennsylvania-based attorney and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives twice, in 1871 and 1873. Robert Elliott Speer spent two years at Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, after which he entered Princeton University, in 1885. While at Princeton, Speer met and was deeply influenced by Dwight L. Moody, and thus he decided on a career of missionary service after his graduation in 1889. Speer spent the year following graduation visiting colleges as a spokesman for the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. In the fall of 1890, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary but left in his second year to become Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., a position he was to hold for over 46 years.

Robert Elliott Speer was a world leader in the ecumenical Protestant missionary movement during the first half of the 20th century, when the movement reached its climax. His duties as secretary took him on many trips to the Far East and to South America, as well as on innumerable shorter trips throughout the U.S. He was also prominent in other organizations, and held positions as President of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America (1920-1924) and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1927). Although he retired in 1937, he continued to travel, and lectured widely until his death in 1947.

Robert Elliott Speer’s brothers are also represented in the collection:

William McMurtrie Speer (1865-1923) was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and was educated at Yale and Albany Law School. He began his career in journalism while still in college, writing for "The News of New Haven." Eventually, he became the managing editor of this paper. He also wrote for the Albany, New York papers "The Sun," as a political and legislative correspondent and "The Star," as a city editor. Later, he was on the editorial board of several other papers. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1892, and last served as a special United States Attorney General, investigating profiteering in coal. He married Margaret Howard Post in 1899.

Victor Speer (1872-1909) was a newspaperman, writer, and poet. He struggled during his time at Andover, but found success later in life as a reporter on "The Buffalo Express" during the Pan-American Expansion. He served on the Arizona frontier in the Army. When Mayor J.N. Adam was elected in Buffalo, New York, Victor was selected to serve as his secretary. He died suddenly from rheumatism of the heart while in this capacity, leaving a wife but no children.

Emma (Doll) Bailey Speer (1872-1961) was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Charles Lukens Bailey and Emma Harriet Doll. After attending Miss Stevens School in Philadelphia, she entered Bryn Mawr College in 1890, leaving after her sophomore year in 1892 to return home, where she spent a year before her marriage. She married Robert Elliott Speer in 1893, and together they had five children, born between 1898 and 1910. Throughout her lifetime, she was closely associated with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), serving that organization in a variety of capacities. After becoming President of the National Board in 1915, she promoted the YWCA’s involvement in emergency war relief work, and championed the cause of great numbers of young women workers who were then moving into the cities. Under her leadership, more residences were opened, and programs of recreation and practical education were given additional support.

Emma Bailey Speer’s active interests included the missionary movement, the suffrage movement, as well as new movements for international peace and sex education. Named honorary president of the National Board of the YWCA after her retirement in 1932, she continued to serve the YWCA with great distinction for many years.

Elliott Speer (1898-1934) was born in Englewood, New Jersey, the oldest child of Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey Speer. He graduated from Princeton University in 1921, served for a year in World War I with the YMCA, and studied at the Theological College of the United Free Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. After working as chaplain, head of the Bible Department, and trustee at several American educational institutions, he returned to Edinburgh to complete graduate work in theology. Afterwards, in 1932, he was appointed headmaster of Mt. Hermon and Northfield Schools, in Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts. He was murdered in his home there in 1934, leaving his wife, Holly, and three small daughters.

Margaret Bailey Speer (1900-1997) was also born in Englewood, the second child of Robert Elliott and Emma Bailey Speer. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1922, she traveled throughout the United States with Maude Royan, a British preacher, pacifist, and suffragist, serving as her secretary and companion. She spent the academic year of 1923-1924 teaching English literature at Sweet Briar College, and the next year, 1924-1925, as a warden at Bryn Mawr. In the late summer of 1925, she sailed for China as a missionary under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to be a teacher at Yenching University in Peking. Her first assignment was teacher of English in the Women’s College. She later served as acting and then full dean of the Women’s College. Detained and interned by the Japanese at the outbreak of war in 1941, she was repatriated to the United States in late 1943. She accepted the position of Headmistress of the Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1944, and remained there until her retirement in 1965. Following her retirement, she remained active in a number of local civic organizations, including a position as Chairman and founding member of the Lower Merion Human Relations Council. Margaret Speer lived for a number of years with Augusta Wagner, who she met while abroad in China.

William Speer (1910-1985) attended the Hotchkiss School and Princeton. Upon graduating in 1933, he entered secondary education, teaching English. In 1941, he moved into academic administration, serving as assistant to the headmaster of the Gilman School, although he postponed his career to join the Navy. Upon his return, he held various administrative positions at Rutgers University, the Loomis School and Harvard, until he was appointed associate dean of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1953. In 1956, he became MIT’s first associate dean for counseling. William was married to Elizabeth Lester (Betty).

The immediate Speer family also included Constance (Pat) Sophea Speer (1907-2000), who attended Bryn Mawr, class of 1929 (graduated in 1930), married Robert F. Barbour, and moved to England, and Eleanor Speer (1903-1906), who died at age three.

The collection also includes a small sampling of letters from Margaret Howard Speer Satterthwaite, William McMurtrie Speer’s daughter and Robert Elliott Speer’s niece.


39 linear ft.

Language of Materials



The Speer Family papers represent four generations of that family, with the bulk of material attributed to the last two generations, especially Robert Elliott Speer and his wife and three of his five children: Emma Bailey, Elliott, Margaret Bailey, and William Speer. The family was active in the Presbyterian Church, serving that institution in a variety of different capacities. The children, in addition to their religious roles, held prominent positions in academic administration. The family’s papers primarily consist of the personal papers of the family, although they also contain the professional correspondence of Emma Bailey and Margaret Bailey Speer, both Bryn Mawr College alumnae. This collection, which dates from 1802 to 1982, contains letters, diaries, speeches, publications, awards, and photographs, although the vast majority of the material is the letters between family members.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Margaret Bailey Speer, Constance Speer Barbour, and William Speer, December 1982. Additional gift by Ann and Sheafe Satterthwaite, 1992.


The Speer Family Papers
Christina Wagner, Melissa Torquato
June 1, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement

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