Jean Spencer

(1933 - 1992) 


Jean Spencer broke the glass ceiling in Maryland higher education when she became Deputy Chancellor of the University of Maryland system. She was credited with helping to implement major state governmental reform and as instrumental in re-establishing a state organization to work specifically on behalf of women.

Spencer was born on March 28, 1933. She moved to College Park, Maryland when her mother took a faculty position at the University of Maryland and after completing high school, she decided to attend the university. There, she completed all three of her degrees in the field of Political Science.

Soon after she, too, joined the faculty -- but as a government professor. Spencer gained state-wide recognition as an expert on state and local government by the time she was in her 30's. Her publications included articles on state and local government and the legislative process in Maryland. Also, Spencer worked with Franklin Burdette in his governmental research bureau on campus. Off-campus, Spencer was involved with the reorganization of Maryland's government. Governor Tawes selected her to be staff (and then director) of the Curlette Commission, created to reorganize Maryland's executive branch. She continued as the commission's staff director under Governors Agnew and Mandel. Governor Mandel implemented executive reorganization to form a cabinet system much like the federal government's based on recommendations of the commission.

Spencer was the research staff director for the Maryland ConstitutionalConvention of 1967-1968. This convention drafted a proposed state constitution hailed as a model document of state government reform across the nation. Though the proposed constitution was defeated by referendum vote in 1968, it has served as a blueprint for governmental reform in Maryland for the next 25 years and most of its major reforms have been adopted as amendments to the constitution, laws enacted by the legislature, or by executive order of the governor.

The re-activization of the Commission on the Status of Women is one of Spencer's accomplishments. In 1965, Governor Tawes appointed a committee to determine the status of women in Maryland. It was chaired by Jeanette Wolman, the first female attorney admitted to the Maryland bar. However, the commission dissolved after completing its report. Spencer, with encouragement by Wolman, convinced Governor Tawes to re-establish the commission in 1968. He appointed a new commission to which Spencer served as staff advisor. In 1971 it was re-named the Maryland Commission for Women and was established by law under Governor Mandel.

In later years, Dr. Spencer founded the Women's Forum of the University of Maryland System to bring together for the first time the concerns of women employees. The forum still exists and remains the solitary voice for women in the System.

Spencer also had a great commitment to higher education in Maryland. In the late '70s and early '80s, Spencer served as Executive Director of the Board of Trustees of State Universities and Colleges. She was instrumental in gaining cost-saving consolidation of services among the member institutions that included Towson, Frostburg, Coppin and Bowie.

Spencer was also generally regarded as instrumental in developing the 1988 reorganization of Maryland's higher education system. Spencer became the deputy chancellor of the system that includes all four-year publically-funded colleges and universities. As deputy chancellor, Spencer was not only second in command, but also the highest ranking woman in the state's higher education system.

In March, 1992, Spencer died suddenly from a pulmonary embolus. She was 58.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001