Gift Honors Legendary Librarian and Civic Volunteer Lucile Speer

Thanks to private support, the University of Montana has its first endowed chair in the humanities.

The Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History honors Lucile Speer and her contributions to Montana and to the University. Speer was a longtime librarian at UM (1928-1968) and delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention of 1972.

Speer was one of 100 delegates who signed the Montana Constitution on March 22, 1972

“This extraordinary gift allows us to recruit, retain and reward top scholars,” said UM President Sheila Stearns. “The Speer Chair will enhance the University’s already stellar reputation in history and political science.”

The endowed position is an idea 30 years in the making. When Speer died in October 1987, a friend suggested that establishing a professorship in politics would be a fitting way to honor her legacy. While the necessary funds were not raised at the time, her family, friends and colleagues did create the Lucile Speer Memorial Lecture as part of the President’s Lecture Series – a fitting recognition, given that Speer’s lifelong passion was in the area of civic and public affairs. Speer earned her bachelor’s degree from UM, then completed graduate school at the University of Chicago. She returned to Montana to teach at Kalispell High School before beginning a 40-year career at UM’s library. 

Her family was deeply involved in education in Montana. Lucile’s older brother, J.B., was UM’s registrar and business manager during the earliest days of the University’s history; her brother, O.D., served as superintendent of schools for Deer Lodge; and her sister, Lillian, was a public school teacher in Superior.

Speer was actively and passionately involved in her community and state. She was a member of the League of Women Voters of Montana and the Missoula Democratic Club, and worked on Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in 1968. At 73, she was the oldest delegate at the Montana Constitutional Convention.

Lucile SpeerOn campus, she was president of the University Teachers Union, as well as a member of the Faculty Senate. She was a friend and adviser to many students and faculty, who appreciated both her sharp take on politics and the fresh corn on the cob she shared from her abundant home garden. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from UM in 1977.

The Speer Chair will recognize a faculty member who has a distinguished record of research and scholarly activity, and the inaugural chair is a shining example.

Richard Drake, who has been a UM history professor since 1982, was named to the position on April 24. Drake has published five books, dozens of articles and over 90 book reviews. For the past 30 years, he has coordinated the President’s Lecture Series. Among other honors, he received the Governor’s Humanities Medal in 2011, and was named UM Distinguished Scholar of the Year in 1996.

“It is a great honor for me to be the inaugural holder of the Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History,” Drake said. “I never met Lucile, but I have developed enormous respect for what I have learned about her splendid qualities of mind and character. Her devotion to UM and commitment to the common good inspired all who knew her.”