The Real Magill

Published:May 5, 2008 by Brendan Wolfe

The point of Encyclopedia Virginia is to collect what’s known. Sometimes, however, we stumble upon the heretofore unknown and that, for lack of a more sophisticated phrase, is pretty cool. Take the life of teacher, novelist, and historian Mary Tucker Magill (1830–1899). Our entry, by Dr. Mary Lynn Bayliss, asserts that Magill began her teaching career at the Valley Female Seminary in Winchester in 1866, the year it was founded by her mother.

Our intrepid fact checkers immediately objected, waving a copy of Virginia Authors: Past and Present (W. D. Taylor, ed.; 1972) and pointing to page 76, where it mentions that Magill opened the school with her daughters, not her mother.

We contacted Dr. Bayliss and she replied with a spine-shiveringly thorough explanation of her research. First off, she said, know that Magilll never married and never had any daughters. Also know that her mother’s name was Ann Evelina Tucker Magill. Now check out an advertisement for the Valley Female Seminary in the July 11, 1869, issue of the Winchester News. (This is just one of three such ads that Dr. Bayliss provided.) On page 2, Dr. Bayliss writes,

there is an announcement of the “Commencement Exercises of the Valley Female Seminary.” They were to “. . . take place, at 8 o’clock on the Evening of June 21st and 22d, in the School Rooms. On Monday Evening the Hon. O. R. Syester, of Hagerstown, Md. will deliver the Annual Address. J. Randolph Tucker, Esq., and J. Fairfax McLaughlin, Esq., of Baltimore will distribute the prizes. After which Dan. B. Lucas, Esq., of Jefferson county, W. Va., will deliver an original poem. On Tuesday Evening the Soiree Musicale will take place. The patrons and friends of the institution are cordially invited to attend. Mrs. A.E.T. Magill. Principal.”

So there you have it. In this one instance, at least, Virginia Authors: Past and Present is wrong and Encyclopedia Virginia will be correct.