Tales from the Vault: Margery Baily

Posted on Oct 4th, 2012 in OSF Archives

As part of her work for Wit (produced in 2000), Lue Douthit consulted the Archives. Knowing the reputation of Margery Bailey, Lue thought perhaps Dr. Bailey would be a good model for the scholarly and academic Professor E.M. Ashford, a character in the play performed by Catherine E. Coulson.

So why Margery Bailey? Who was she and why is she the only woman, among men, to grace the wall at the back of the reception desk?

Dr. Bailey was OSF founder Angus Bowmer’s teacher at Stanford, and later started the Education Department at OSF. She was a founder of the Tudor Guild, a volunteer group that operates the gift shop. She, along with Jim Sandoe, a librarian and play director, established a collection of Shakespeare’s life and times which has grown to 7200 volumes at the SOU library and bears her name.

She was an actress, critic, prolific letter writer, but most of all she was a teacher. Phillip Persky, a former student, spoke of one of her final lectures thus: “The teacher’s job,” she said, “is always to teach a little above the student’s understanding. Force him to push. Force him to try to understand what you’re saying. If you simply explain the material, that’s not teaching—that’s a conversation.” Persky then said “Her address was a stunning success. No copy exists; in a community supposedly brimming with intelligence, no one had the wit to record it.”

At the OSF Archives, however, we have several reel-to-reel recordings of her lectures in the old “Green Room,” a knoll outside the Elizabethan Theatre, as well as other information. Lue had three tapes transferred to CDs so Catherine could actually listen to the cadence of her voice. Lue also showed Catherine some of Dr. Bailey’s writings, an oral history transcript of her local landlady while she summered in Ashland, and several photographs.

Catherine used all this information, as well as her own talent, to develop the character portrayed in two contrasting scenes in the play.

Written originally for The Company Call, March/April 2000, by Kit Leary.