Archives > Historical Features > Penn Biographies

PENN BIOGRAPHIES

Margaret Majer Kelly (1899 - 1990)

University Affiliation:
  • Instructor of physical education for women
  • First coach of women's teams at Penn
Biographical Summary:
  • Civic leader known especially for her work at Women's Medical College
  • Member of the Philadelphia School Board
  • Wife and mother of Olympic medal winners in rowing
  • Mother of Grace Kelly, actress and princess of Monaco

 

Margaret Katherine Majer was born in Schloss Helmsdorf, Germany, the daughter of Margaretha, and Carl Majer. Soon after the family moved to Philadelphia and Margaret and her two siblings grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city. Margaret, an outstanding athlete, excelled in intercollegiate swimming as an undergraduate at Temple University. Her beauty brought her jobs as a model and cover girl.

Photograph of the Kingsessing recreation facility used a gym by Miss Majer and Penn's women students. Photograph from 1924 women's yearbook.After earning her B.A. from Temple in 1921, Margaret Majer succeeded Ethel Loring as Instructor in Physical Education for Women at the University of Pennsylvania's College for Women. She led the undergraduate women in athletic pursuits at the Kingsessing facility used as a gymnasium by Penn's female students. While teaching at Penn, Majer became the first coach of women's athletic teams at the University, organizing and training a women's basketball team and scheduling the first intercollegiate competitions for women. The women's basketball team played eight opponents in its first year, including Bryn Mawr College, Drexel University, and Temple University. Teams in gymnastics, softball, swimming, and tennis were planned for the next year. Margaret Majer also led a successful fundraising campaign to build women's tennis Margaret Majer, standing at the far right, as coach of 1924 woman's field hockey team at Penn. Photograph from 1924 women's yearbook.courts on what, for a few years, was a vacant lot on the southeast corner of Thirty-Fourth and Walnut Streets. After only three years at Penn, Margaret Katherine Majer's achievements brought her well-earned celebrity as the founder of women's athletics at Penn.

Margaret Majer married Olympic oarsman John Brendan Kelly in 1924, ten years after they first met at a neighborhood swimming pool. Jack Kelly, the son of an Irish Catholic immigrant and ten years her senior, won an Olympic gold medal for sculling in 1920. After working in the brickmaking businesses of two older brothers, he started his own business, eventually becoming a millionaire. He was also involved in politics. After serving as Democratic City chairman, he ran unsuccessfully as the Democrat candidate for mayor of Philadelphia in 1935 and would also have run for senator if his wife had not discouraged the move.

John B. Kelly, Sr., receiving a civic award in 1960 (shortly before his death), accompanied by his wife Margaret Kelly and daughter LizanneMargaret and Jack Kelly settled in the East Falls section of Philadelphia where they raised four children: Margaret (or "Peggy"), Jack Jr., Grace, and, the youngest member of the family, Elizabeth Anne (or "Lizanne"). Two of these offspring graduated from Penn, Jack in 1950 and Lizanne in 1955. Jack Kelly won an Olympic bronze medal for rowing in 1956, became involved in the family construction business and later became a Philadelphia city councilman as well as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Grace Kelly, of course, gained fame first as an actress and then as princess of Monaco.

After her children were all in school, Margaret Majer Kelly became active in various civic organizations. In 1935 she began a long association with Women's Medical College of Philadelphia, serving on its Women's Auxiliary and Board of Corporators before chairing the Development Program and then receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from the school. In recognition of her contributions, the Women's Medical College named a section of the hospital for her. She also served as a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education from 1961 to 1964 and as a leader of volunteer boards and groups associated with the Philadelphia Association for Retarded Children, Moss Rehabilitation Hospital and the Committee for Philadelphia House.

Margaret Majer Kelly died January 6th, 1990.

 

Margaret Meyer Kelly as an older woman, from a newsclipping

 

 

MORE PENN BIOGRAPHIES:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

For more individuals see the University Archives' collections of personal papers

RELATED LINKS:

More on the history of women's athletics at Penn