When a photo of Margaret McClure Cummings goes up in Anderson Hall as a part of the Legends project, it might be a good idea to hang alongside that photo an example of the outlines and charts of Biblical chapters she assigned to her students as Assistant Professor of Bible and Christian Education from 1940 until 1969.
Undoubtedly, several of her former students still have them and find them useful, whether they went on to seminary or teach Sunday School. She once told a reporter: “The nicest compliment I’ve gotten from students is that they learned to love the Bible in my courses.”
In 1935, Margaret Cummings didn’t move to Tennessee from Pennsylvania to teach. She moved because her husband, Dr. John W. Cummings, was hired to be the director of personnel and teach Bible at Maryville College. But when he died unexpectedly only one year after their move, Margaret had to decide how she was going to support herself and her three children. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister and a 1924 graduate of Westminster College, she decided to work toward a master’s degree in Christian education. Going back to school was an amazing leap of faith to make as a young widow and single mother, but in 1938, she earned a master’s degree in religious education from what is now New York Theological Seminary. In 1940, she moved back to Maryville, where she had accepted a position in the College’s Bible Department.
For most of her years at Maryville, she could be found in Anderson Hall, room 308. She taught a required Bible course, so the vast majority of students in those years passed through her classroom and were influenced by her passion for studying the Bible.
All three of her children attended and graduated from Maryville College. Maybe her children’s friends nicknamed her “Ma.” She was called that, and also “Saint Margaret” by students, but it was never meant in a mean way. Her students loved and respected her, as did her colleagues.
A lifelong learner, she did graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh and New York University, taught at institutions and meetings away from Maryville, took trips to the Middle East and Europe for study and pleasure, and read voraciously. She was enjoyable to be around, and her home was always open to friends and students. She took particular interest in helping missionary kids and international students feel at home in Maryville.
Her field of study was different than most of the legends celebrated tonight, but Margaret Cummings is like the others in one important characteristic: They were people of tremendous faith – faith in God, yes – but also a strong faith in Maryville and its mission.
She died in 2004 at the age of 101. She lived to see Maryville College reach historic milestones in enrollment, reputation and campus facilities. Today, she would more than pleased with the plans for Anderson’s renovation and the assurance that it will serve several more generations of Bible lovers.