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Biography of Mary Pierce Van Zile

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Mary Pierce Van Zile. A very important member of the faculty of the Kansas State Agricultural College is Mrs. Mary Pierce Van Zile, dean of women and dean of the division of home economics. Her name is a household word in many widely separated homes, for each year Mrs. Van Zile has under her immediate care and instruction from 800 to 900 girls. They come from many environments and are mostly in the most receptive period of their lives, and the influence exerted by Dean Van Zile largely moulds their future.

Mary Pierce Van Zile was born on her father’s homestead, near Solomon, in Dickinson County, Kansas, February 7, 1873, and is a daughter of Lyman B. and Lea A. (Bandy) Pierce. The father was a native of Vermont and came of sterling New England stock. The mother was born in Indiana of equally excellent people and pioneer settlers. Lyman B. Pierce served as a soldier during the Civil war, in the Union army, for four years and three months, and shortly after its close pre-empted a homestead in Dickinson County, Kansas. After proving upon that land he removed to Henry County, Iowa, settling at Winfield, where he has since resided, devoting his active years largely to the manufacture of tiling, brick and sewer piping. He can look back over eighty years of a well-spent life.

At Winfield, Iowa, Mary Pierce spent her childhood and young womanhood. Her early education was received in the public schools of Winfield, and the years of 1889-91 were spent as a student in the Kansas State Agricultural College although she did not remain to graduate, for in December, 1892, she became the wife of Gilbert J. Van Zile. He was a graduate of the college in the class of 1890 and was a student of law and was admitted to the bar. During the six years of their married life, Mr. and Mrs. Van Zile resided at Carthage, Illinois, where he had built up a lucrative practice when illness fell upon him and a brilliant career was terminated by his death, in January, 1899. He left two sons, Ralph Pierce and Loren Gilbert. Mrs. Van Zile, unaided, has reared these sons to honorable manhood, giving them exceptional educational advantages. She has had the proud satisfaction of seeing the elder son a graduate of the Kansas State Agricultural College in the class of 1916, the younger son being a student here.

Soon after the death of her husband, Mrs. Van Zile returned to Iowa. Ambitious to be busy, useful and independent, she decided to enter the Iowa State College, at Ames, to pursue a course of study that would prepare her for the work she had in mind, and in 1904 she was graduated from this college in home economics. This field of trained work was, in many sections, entirely new, but in the City of Chicago she found her services acceptable and appreciated and for four years taught home economics in the public schools there. In the fall of 1908 she came to the Kansas State Agricultural College as professor of domestic science, and in 1909 was made dean of women, and in 1913 dean of the division of home economics. In her work in the college she has evinced exceptional ability, rendering skilled services which have made her division second to none in the completeness of its training in any similar institution.

Dean Van Zile is a member of the Presbyterian Church, of which church her venerable father has been a ruling elder for more than a half century. She has membership in several Greek letter college [p.1738] fraternities including Phi Kappa Phi and Omicron Nu. Mention has been made of the salutary influence she exerts over the hundreds of girls who annually come under her care and supervision. A womanly woman she is able to secure the confidence of her charges and her unfailing patience and sympathy arouse willing obedience, entire respect and warm affection. In a way, Dean Van Zile may be called a type of new woman–in her successful struggle for recognition as an efficient factor in the world’s work, strong because of her high type of womanliness and because of her technical training that has made her equal to the tasks she has assumed.


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