Maryly Van Leer Peck

Maryly Van Leer Peck (June 29, 1930 November 3, 2011) was an American academic, and the first female President of Polk Community College. Peck was the first woman to graduate with a degree in chemical engineering from Vanderbilt University in 1951, and the first woman to receive an M.S. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Florida.[1][3][4]

Maryly Van Leer Peck
President of
Polk Community College
In office
Preceded byFred Lenfestey
Succeeded byJ. Larry Durrence
Personal details
Born(1930-06-29)June 29, 1930
Washington, D.C.
DiedNovember 3, 2011(2011-11-03) (aged 81)[1]
West Palm Beach, Florida
Spouse(s)Edwin L. Carey
Alma materVanderbilt University
University of Florida
ProfessionCommunity college president

Early life and education


Maryly Van Leer Peck was the only daughter of Blake Ragsdale Van Leer (1893-1956) and Ella Lillian Wall Van Leer (1892-1986),[3] née Ella Lillian Wall[2] and the great-great-niece of American Revolutionary War General "Mad" Anthony Wayne. A daughter of a marine engineer, her mother earned an M.A. in Art and Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley in 1915, and was a strong advocate for women in engineering throughout her whole life. Her father, a mechanical engineer and a recipient of two honorary doctorates, was the President of Georgia Institute of Technology from 1944 until his death in 1956. During his tenure, in addition to making the first steps toward racial integration, Georgia Tech started admitting female students for the first time in its history.[2][5]

Born on 29 June 1930 in Washington, D.C., Maryly Van Leer Peck was the second child of Blake and Ella Van Leer, four years younger than Blake and Ella's oldest child, Blake Wayne, and as many years older than her younger brother, Samuel Wall. Blake Wayne would go on to receive a master's degree in Civil Engineering from Princeton in 1959 and rise to the rank of U.S. Navy Captain in 1971; he died in October 1997. A civil engineer himself, Samuel Van Leer became a teacher and basketball coach, working for many years at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta.[2]


In addition to their academic background, Maryly's parents were close friends with renowned intellectuals of their time, including Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, which not only exposed Maryly very early to engineering, but it also showed her the possibility that she could be one herself.[3] Maryly became the valedictorian of her high school class in Georgia, granting her a state-sponsored scholarship. However, at that time, the male-only Georgia Tech university was the only school offering engineering, and even though Maryly's father filed a case on her behalf, she didn't have an option but to spend a year at Duke, before transferring to Vanderbilt University in her sophomore year, so that she could major chemical engineering.[3] Maryly received her bachelor's degree with highest honors from Vanderbilt in 1951, while also becoming the first woman initiated into Tau Beta Pi, the honorary engineering fraternity.[2] Four years later, Van Leer Peck became the first woman with an Engineering master's degree from the University of Florida, where she also received her Doctorate in 1963.[2][6]


While working on her master's degree, Maryly Van Leer Peck started tutoring older students in math-related subjects. This caught the eye of a professor at Florida University, who asked her to substitute for him, while he was away presenting a paper. This was the first of many teaching jobs Peck would have during the following decades.[3]

In 1962, as she was finishing her doctoral dissertation, Peck found a job as a propellant engineer for Rocketdyne Corporation in California.[3] Since she was already a mother of four children by that time - this attracted the interest of few journalists and resulted in a 1962 interview for Life magazine.[5]

Soon after their marriage, Van Leer's husband, Jordan Brown Peck, Jr., became an Episcopal priest. Maryly followed him when he decided to do some missionary work in Guam. They will remain there for eleven years. During this period, Van Leer Peck would manage to become the first woman dean of the College of Business and Applied Technology at the University of Guam and the founder of what is now the Guam Community College.[3][6]

In 1982 she was selected to be the President of Polk Community College, and she served in this position until 1997.[1][7] Peck was the first woman to be named president of any of Florida's 26 community colleges.

During her tenure, Polk Community College added the Lakeland campus and established a foundation which, by the time she retired, had $5.5 million for scholarships and college equipment.[1][4]

After her retirement in 1997, Peck served as the headmaster of the Episcopal All Saints' Academy.

She was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Florida in 1991, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.[6]

She died in West Palm Beach, in 2011, at the age of 81.[1][2][3][7]

Personal life

Maryly Van Leer married Jordan Brown Peck, Jr. (1929-2013) in 1951, the year she received her B.A. The couple had four children,[2] three of which became engineers and one an artist and an art therapist.[3]

In 1982, Peck became the first women to be admitted into membership of the Winter Haven Rotary Club; afterwards, she also became the first women to be elected President of the same club.[1][6]


  1. Chambliss, John (November 4, 2011). "Maryly Van Leer Peck, Former PCC President, Dies at 81". Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  2. "Van Leer Family Papers (MS458)". Finding Aid. Archives, Library and Learning Excellence, Georgia Tech Library. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  3. Van Leer Peck, Maryly (13 June 2003). "Oral-History: Maryly Van Leer Peck". Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project (Interview). Interviewed by Lauren Kata. Winter Haven, Florida: Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  4. Hatch, Sybil E. Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers. ASCE Publications. p. 195. ISBN 9780784408353.
  5. "Mother's an Engineer". Life. 14 September 1962. pp. 102–106. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  6. "Maryly VanLeer Peck". Florida Women's Hall of Fame. Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  7. "Polk State Mourns Loss of Former President". Polk State College. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
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