Like several of her predecessors, Lida Lee Tall received much of her education and professional experience in Maryland. When appointed as principal in 1920, it was already clear that she was a woman of intelligence, vision, and commitment to teacher education who would move the Maryland State Normal School to a new level of excellence.
Born in 1873 in Dorchester County, Tall moved to Baltimore early in her childhood and received her education from Baltimore City’s elementary schools. She graduated from Western High School and later studied at Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. It was at Columbia University that Tall received her Bachelor of Science degree in 1914. She taught for several years in Baltimore City elementary schools and the Baltimore Teacher’s Training School where she focused on education, literature, and history.
In 1908, Tall became the Supervisor of Grammar Grades in Baltimore County and remained in this position until 1917, when she became the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Grammar Grades. In 1918, Tall resigned and went to New York to serve as principal of Lincoln Elementary School, which was under the direction of the Teachers College at Columbia University. In 1920, Tall returned to Maryland where she became head of the MSNS. From then until 1938, she led the institution in a new period of growth, both in numbers of students and faculty, as well as in academic quality.
When Tall joined MSNS, the school was still recovering from the enrollment decline of the war years, but a big step forward came in 1924 with the merging of the Baltimore Teacher’s Training School. This merger meant that Towson was poised to become the largest producer of certified Maryland teachers, a distinction that Towson University still holds. Despite the advantage the merger created, Tall still faced the challenged brought by the Great Depression and the subsequent rise in tuition costs.
Advances in teacher education were also a hallmark of Tall’s years in office. In 1931, the school curriculum was increased from a two-year course of study to three years. In 1934, this was again amended by the Maryland General Assembly, and the school was granted the ability to award four-year Bachelor of Science degrees in Education. To reflect the change, the Maryland State Normal School was renamed the Maryland State Teachers College at Towson (STC). Tall’s title was changed from principal to president. By 1936, the school was meeting accreditation standards set forth by the American Association of Teachers Colleges and the American Council of Education.
To accommodate the eventual enrollment growth, campus facilities were expanded. First, Richmond Hall was built in 1923 to house more female students. Then, in 1933, after Tall persuaded the General Assembly to pass legislation and grant funds, the Campus Elementary School building, now known as Van Bokkelen Hall, was constructed. Finally, thanks to efforts made by the Works Progress Administration, the Glen was cleared and outfitted with stone shelters, a botany pond, and trails in 1937. The space served not only as a classroom for both the student teachers and elementary students on campus, but also became a popular meeting place for students.
Throughout her life, Tall continued to be an active scholar and leader in education. She traveled to Europe to attend meetings regarding education and international cooperation, taught summer sessions at Johns Hopkins and Columbia, and for several years, she was the associate editor of the Atlantic Journal, which was published in Baltimore. Additionally, Tall was the alumni trustee of the Teachers College, Columbia University, served as secretary of the Department of Superintendence of the National Education Association, and was an active member of the Association of History Teachers of the Middle States and Maryland, the Women’s Eastern Shore Society, the National Institute of Social Service, and several other organizations.
In addition to her other accomplishments, Tall collaborated in writing a history textbook and in compiling a comprehensive bibliography of history for schools. She co-authored the preparation of the now famous Baltimore County Course of Study, and after she retired in 1938, held the position as president of the Maryland Children’s Aid Society.
Two buildings on campus were named after Tall. The first, the Campus Elementary School, was renamed the Lida Lee Tall School after her death in 1942. In 1960, a new Lida Lee Tall building was constructed and housed the model school until the state ceased funding support in the 1990s. It was razed in 2006 to make room for the new College of Liberal Arts building.
As the Maryland State Normal School evolved into the State Teachers College at Towson, it was the leadership of the faculty and of Dr. Tall who made for a smooth transition.