In many ways, the UCLA that Marjorie Pierson Stein (B.A. ’45) encountered as a freshman in the fall of 1942 was shaped by the turbulent landscape of the Great Depression and Second World War. Marge was a senior at Susan Dorsey High School when the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II. While she prepared for college, Marge’s male classmates, like most young men aged 18 to 35 at the time, prepared for combat overseas. Her second- and third-generation Japanese American classmates were forced out of their homes and taken with their families to internment camps across California.
For those who were fortunate enough to attend college during that time, UCLA offered one of the most affordable educations in the state. Still, Marge worked throughout college, first at Sears & Roebuck, which paid 35 cents an hour, then at May Company downtown, which offered 50 cents, and finally at the Mandel Shoe Store as a typist in their credit office where she earned an impressive 65 cents per hour. In those days, she says, it took only 15 minutes to get from Westwood to Downtown Los Angeles via Olympic Boulevard.
Despite the very serious and troubling realities of a nation emerging from the Great Depression and entering a world war, Marge remembers her time at UCLA with great fondness. Those were the years when she and her UCLA classmate went swimming past the break water and yachts that then crowded Santa Monica Pier, paid 25 cents to attend the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday nights, and helped to organize United Service Organization parties at the Hollywood Canteen when service men came into town. These were the years during which she ran a car pool service, driving her 1939 Chevy across Los Angeles to pick up five of her UCLA classmates, who each paid her $1 a week for a ride to and from campus. She remembers 1943 as the first year that UCLA’s football team beat USC and made it all the way to the Rose Bowl, much to the chagrin of a faculty member who promised that if the Bruins made it that far, he would give a lecture entirely in Latin to students and faculty in Royce Hall.
Most significantly, it was at UCLA that Marge developed her love of learning and her desire to become a teacher. As the daughter of European immigrants and the first in her family to go to college, Marge says,
“It never occurred to me to be anything other than an educator, as education was so important to my family and to my mother, who had to work in a factory all her life.”
Originally planning to become a high school language teacher, Marge switched her major to elementary education, inspired by the teachings of Corrine Seeds. “Ms. Seeds was an absolutely fabulous teacher,” Marge says. “She taught us how to incorporate the arts, music, performance and play into the curriculum so as to best teach each child, and by the time we graduated, we had learned everything we needed to know to become well-versed and effective teachers.”
While student teaching at UCLA Lab School, then called the University Elementary School, Marge learned the valuable lesson that children behave better and work harder when given personalized attention and care. Learning about this and the need for teachers to approach each child as an individual with his or her own set of strengths and challenges were the two lessons that impacted Marge’s teaching practice and philosophy the most throughout her career.
Marge was inducted into the Delta Phi Upsilon membership honor society and scored in the highest 10% on the teacher’s test for the LA City School system. Landing a job at Woodcrest School as their first new teacher in 15 years, Marge taught 3rd and 4th grade in severely overcrowded classrooms of 49 students each. The very low socio-economic status of her students was nothing new to Marge, who had spent the summer before her graduation from UCLA teaching Los Angeles’ newly-formed HeadStart Federal Program, a service organization that provided meals, clean clothes and care to children and parents in need.
Marge’s passion for education and its capacity to open doors for children drove her career first as an elementary teacher and later as an early childhood education professor at Santa Monica College. She and her husband started a number of private schools and camps in West LA and Malibu including a preschool, after school recreation club, day camps, resort camps, a swim school, and an industrial recreation facility. They also created and managed a family business, the Malibu Phoenix Retreat, which provided quality educational and recreational programming to children across Los Angeles.
Now retired, Marge continues to give back to her community. She was the President of the Southern California Association for Nursery Education in the 1960s and wrote numerous articles for their monthly journal. She is also an active member of Valley University Women, which welcomes members from universities around the world and provides college scholarships to high school students in the San Fernando Valley.
Looking back over her career, she says,
“The satisfaction of teaching young kids and seeing the immediate results of your teaching on their growth and development [was most rewarding]. Seeing my students take what they had learned in the classroom and put it to use was very exciting.”