Mary Urban


Mary Urban held many roles at the New School as an administrator and wife of Joseph Urban, the architect of the flagship building of the New School for Social Research at 66 W. 12th Street. She was born Mary Porter Beegle, probably in 1881, in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Her father William Harvey Beegle was a commissioner of deeds and notary public, and owned a real estate agency in Ocean Grove. But his deep involvement in organizing community and amateur sport events seemed to have had a great influence on his daughter’s life.[1] Mary Beegle graduated from Chalif School of Dancing in 1910.[2] She was a student and dancer of Isadora Duncan for a brief but influential period, when Duncan was teaching dance in Germany. After graduation, Beegle helped found “Campfire Girls of America” (today Camp Fire) with leaders such as Jane Addams.[3] She then became an instructor of physical education, dancing, pageantry and aesthetics at Barnard College and Columbia’s Teachers College in 1910.[4] She also started and developed a recreation program for the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.[5]

Beegle took part as an instructor in the Greek Games of Barnard. Greek language, literature, and art were considered the base of the education of well-rounded men and women in the early 20th century when there was interest in Hellenic idealism in America. The American middle class was in search of a new American culture, and Greek history and culture seemed like a good source to build from. Greek language and culture were a common part of the curricula of many American colleges. Beegle became a pioneer in the community theater and pageantry movement that was inspired by ancient Greek drama and the modern dance of Isadora Duncan. In 1914 she was already mentioned as a famed pageantry director. She also published a book with Jack Crawford, Community Drama and Pageantry, about outdoor dancing and exercise routine, partly based on Duncan’s free dance.

As a Chairman of the Festival Committee of the New York Branch of the Drama League of America, Beegle was the initiator and “soul, mind and heart” of the New York amateur community drama entertainment piece in 1916, “The Caliban of Yellow Sands,” in celebration of the Shakespeare Tercentenary. It was performed by 1500 mainly amateur performers in the Stadium of the College of the City of New York. The stage set and lightning designer was Joseph Urban, the occasion of their first meeting.[6] Urban divorced from his first wife and married Beegle in 1919.

For several years after 1916, Beegle organized together with Urban the Riverdale Summer Sessions, a school of dramatic training in which students were introduced to different areas of theater, from stage design to dramatic expression and movement.[7] After 1919, she helped Urban manage his various theater projects and studio in Yonkers. When Urban was commissioned by Alvin Johnson to design a new signature building of the New School on 66 West 12th Street, Mary Urban may have influenced the design of the famous dance studio in its basement.

Mary Urban became a Trustee of the school in the 1930s and also a member of the New School Associates, an important organization of donors and supporters of the school. After the death of her husband in 1933, Urban took over the management of his estate, and turned his Yonkers Studio into the Waverly Terrace Auditorium, a community entertainment center from 1934 until 1939.[8] In 1939 she moved to Manhattan and started working at the New School for Social Research in various positions, as Assistant Treasurer (1939-1941), Director of Promotion (1942), and Director of Public Relations (1943-58). She had an important role in fundraising in the 1940s, “managed campaigns and mounted direct appeals, sponsored luncheons and teas, coordinated meetings and maintained records, and managed scholarships, among other duties.”[9] She was also involved in the financial planning and management of Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop.

After she retired in the mid-1950s, Urban went to Europe to devote herself to painting and to research her husband’s works in Europe. The material she gathered, though, perished when the the ship, the Andrea Doria, sank on its way back from Europe in 1956. Urban survived the tragedy and, in 1958, she and Gretl Urban, Joseph Urban’s daughter, donated her husband’s estate to Columbia University. Until 1963 she exhibited her paintings at the New School frequently as a member of the New School Associates. She probably died around 1966.

For more in the New School Archives on Mary Urban, see the New School Development and Public Relations Office records, 1926-1967.


[1] “Ocean Grove’s Opening Day.” Ocean Grove Times, June 10, 1899. Accessed May 29, 2018.

[2] Teachers College Bulletin. Columbia University, 1912… Accessed May 29, 2018.

[3] Marshall, Edward. “GIRLS TAKE UP THE BOY SCOUT IDEA AND BAND TOGETHER.” New York Times (1857-1922), Mar 17, 1912.…. Accessed March 7, 2018.

[4] “MISS BEEGLE MADE MASQUE A SUCCESS.” New York Times (1857-1922), May 28, 1916.…. Accessed March 7, 2018.

[5] Beegle, Mary Porter. “Hygiene and Physical Education in Trade Schools for Girls.” American Physical Education Review. 1914. 19:2, 73-93, DOI: 10.1080/23267224.1914.10651377

[6] “MISS BEEGLE MADE MASQUE A SUCCESS.” New York Times (1857-1922), May 28, 1916.…. Accessed March 7, 2018.

[7] Theatre Arts. (1919):Volume 3, p. 301

[8] SoYo Sunset. “The Waverly Terrace Auditorium (etc.) — 217 S. Waverly St.” Last modified November 16, 2016.… Accessed March 7, 2018.

[9] “Guide to The New School Development and Public Relations Office Records, 1926-1967.” The New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York. Accessed March 7, 2018.


Joseph and Mary Urban, undated, photographer unknown, source: