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Margaret Jewell Mullen, dance divisoin pioneer, dies

Margaret Jewell Mullen, 89, died of cancer at her Menlo Park home August 28. A memorial service will be held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverly Street in Palo Alto on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 5:30 pm.

Mullen was born in Emporia, Kansas. A precocious youngster, she entered the University of Arkansas at age 14 and was said to be the youngest student in the nation to enter college that year. At the University of Wisconsin Mullen earned a master's degree in philosophy and accumulated enough credits for a major in dance as well. The head of the dance department there, however, was miffed that Mullen hadn't completed the courses in the traditional two years. "I went through registration twice, which you could do before computers," she told Stanford Dance Division Lecturer Janice Ross in an interview several years ago. "I didn't get a master's in dance because I couldn't be there for two years, but I took all the equivalent coursework," Mullen recalled then.

Mullen taught at San Jose State University before joining the Stanford faculty in 1937. According to Ross, Mullen insisted on the establishment of a dance major as a condition of her employment.

"Up until then, the dance program had been a movement-for-girls kind of program," said Maureen Eppstein, of ITSS, who shared another of Mullen's loves - writing. "Margaret's focus was on dance as an art form," Eppstein said.

As chair of the program in the late 1930s and early 1940s, instituted a mandatory dance class for all PE majors, and took students off campus to see dance performances in San Francisco. She also brought professionals to campus.

"There was a divide between the academic orientation of dance and the performance orientation. She crossed back and forth," Ross said. Moreover, Mullen didn't buy the argument that dance was just for girls. She defied President Ray Lyman Wilbur, who vehemently disapproved of men taking dance, by developing what Ross described as an "active but clandestine program for recruiting male dancers."

Mullen left Stanford in 1941 after her marriage to James McLean Mullen. In 1967 she went to work at Menlo Atherton High School, where she founded the career education program there. In 1972 she wrote a California State manual for career education based on her model. Menlo Park awarded her a key to the city in 1974 in recognition of her work with students.

From 1979 until her death, Mullen established herself as a fixture in the local literary community. Her books include "An Arkansas Childhood - Growing Up in the Athens of the Ozarks," which was published in 1989. A collection of her poetry called "Safe For Now," was published in 1993 and "One Woman's Journey - From 8 - 88" was published this year. She was an active member of several writers groups including Waverly Writers.

"She was very much one of the matriarchs [of the literary community] and very highly respected for her writing and her ability to bring people together," Eppstein said.

Mullen is survived by her daughter, Sally Mullen of Menlo Park, her son, Michael, and his wife, Leta, and a granddaughter, Melissa Stewart all of Seattle.

Flowers for the service are welcome and donations may be made to the Children's Home Society, the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or the American Cancer Society. Arrangements are being made under the direction of Spangler Mortuary in Menlo Park at 323-6500.

On October 24 at 8 pm in Roble Dance Studio, the Dance Division will dedicate its annual alumni concert Mullen's memory. "We'll have a slide tribute to her at the beginning of the concert and also we are designating a $500 student summer fellowship for a modern dance student in Margeret's name," Ross said.


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