Rebecca S. Marshall, 101, taught math and Latin at St. Timothy's School

January 14, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Rebecca Snowden Marshall, a longtime math and Latin teacher at St. Timothy's School and descendant of Baltimore's mayor during the Civil War, died Friday of natural causes at Roland Park Place. She was 101.

Born in Baltimore at the dawn of the 20th century, she grew up in Stevenson in a family with deep roots in the 19th. One of her grandfathers was Judge George William Brown, the city's mayor at the start of the Civil War; the other was Lt. Col. Charles Marshall, Robert E. Lee's military secretary.

The Civil War was a sensitive subject in the Marshall household, family members say. When the young Miss Marshall returned home one day (by horse and buggy) from Bryn Mawr School, her father, Baltimore City Solicitor R.E. Lee Marshall, asked her what she was reading in class. She handed him a history book that described, in positive terms, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Gen. Philip Sheridan's marches across the South.

"You can't read that!" her father said, and threw the book in the fireplace, according to her nephew, John Marshall Morgan.

Miss Marshall's mother, Clara Brune Brown Marshall, went to school and explained that her daughter would need a different history book, which the school provided.

"Grandfather was very pro-South and didn't feel that was a proper thing to put in a book," Mr. Morgan said.

Miss Marshall graduated from the Bryn Mawr School in 1917 and attended Bryn Mawr College. After her graduation in 1921, she worked as a lab technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, helping Dr. Perin Long and Dr. Eleanor Bliss (a Bryn Mawr classmate) in their work developing sulfur antibiotics.

But the classroom appealed to Miss Marshall more than the lab, and by the 1930s she was teaching at St. Timothy's School in Stevenson.

Yesterday, one of her former students, Ellen Kelly, recalled Miss Marshall's gift of making algebra class move swiftly along - even if it meant leaving a few of the less attentive students behind.

"Most teachers were laborious, but she was just very quick. She didn't suffer fools gladly," said Mrs. Kelly, who was at St. Timothy's in the 1940s. "She was very straightforward. If you didn't catch [an answer] she figured you would catch it next time. She just went on."

For Mrs. Kelly, Miss Marshall's approach succeeded in enlivening a drab subject.

"I, who never thought I could like mathematics, really liked algebra. She made it seem like something easily solvable. She said, `Just attack it. It's a puzzle and you can solve it,'" she said. "I was very fond of her, and you're not often fond of teachers when you're 16 or 17."

Miss Marshall retired in 1965. A resident of Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, she spent much of her retirement playing bridge (where her mathematical mind came in handy) and golf at the Elkridge Club. She was a member of the Mount Vernon Club, the Gibson Island Club and the Colonial Dames of Maryland.

She was still on the links at age 92 when some people suggested she ride a golf cart. "It made her furious," said her niece Betsey Morgan. "That was not the way the game was played, she told them. She walked and carried her bag."

The same year, Miss Marshall received a call from the Roland Park Country Day School asking if she would tutor Latin. "She called us and asked, `What should I do?'" her niece said. "We said, `If you can remember it, do it.'"

Miss Marshall lived at Roland Park Place for the past eight years. When conversation would flag during visits, her niece would ask that Miss Marshall speak some Latin. "And she did. She spoke Latin," said Mrs. Morgan.

Funeral services are private.

In addition to her niece and nephew, of Gibson Island, Miss Marshall is survived by another niece, Mary Tighman Golden of St. Petersburg, Fla.; three great-nieces and -nephews; and four great-great-nieces and -nephews.

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