Three Women Drew Theological School Deans, One Decade

Remembering “a magical time” in honor of Women’s History Month

March 2024 – In 2000, Maxine Beach made history when she was hired to serve as Drew Theological School’s first woman dean


Virginia (Ginny) Samuel T'75, Maxine Beach, Anne Yardley

And she was the first layperson to hold the position. And the first woman to head one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries

Further, Anne Yardley, a laywoman and a Episcopalian, served as Associate Academic Dean and Virginia (Ginny) Samuel T’75 served as Associate Dean of Contextual Learning. From 2000 to 2010, three women held the dean positions at the Theological School.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re reflecting on this historic time of leadership at Drew.

After a lengthy recruitment process, Beach recalls her surprise when former Drew President Thomas Kean called her to share the good news that she was awarded the position of Vice President and Dean of the Theological School. As Associate General Secretary of the General Council of Ministries of the United Methodist Church, she was on location at the UMC General Conference at the time. The intent was to keep the news quiet until a formal announcement was released to the public, but it spread like wildfire throughout the conference by others who were aware of the hire. “It was a really wild way to begin!” she said.

She did not expect to be presented with the position. She even planted perennials at her home, assuming she was staying put for a few years. But a move to New Jersey was in order.


Maxine Beach

“Since I saw myself as an administrator and someone who cared deeply about the local church, I was surprised to be offered the job,” said Beach. “I knew of the strong PhD program and assumed the new dean would be someone with more publications and academic recommendations.” 

“Most of my previous jobs had been done by a man before me,” said Beach, who also served as an academic dean at a theological seminary.

“Drew was very forward in my hire,” she said. “I felt the pressure to succeed as do all women who are the first in a position. I actually think many people were more concerned that I was a layperson than a woman.”

But Beach faced the pressure head on. One of the first major projects she tackled was successfully raising funds to renovate Seminary Hall. “The trustees began to believe that not only could we and should we do this, but it was possible and wouldn’t take anything away from any other part of the school.”

“She held her own as well as any dean that came before her, and the faculty knew that,” said Samuel.

During her decade-long tenure, Beach is most proud of the growth of her students and revamping the PhD program, which is enormously successful and well-respected today. “My real joy was always in seeing individuals grow in their understanding and commitment to leaving Drew and helping create a more just society in and out of the church.” 


Virginia (Ginny) Samuel T'75

Samuel spent over 35 years at Drew, both as a student and a member of the staff. As a student in the 1970’s, she recalled that there were very few women students and no women faculty members. “To go from that to a long season when there were three women deans in the office was really remarkable and says a lot about Drew itself,” she said. 

After graduating from Drew, Samuel worked in palliative care. She was encouraged to return to Drew as a part-time staff member, which led to her full-time dean position.

“Having three women deans was such an interesting dynamic for women students,” said Samuel. “They were incredibly grateful. It was a magical time.”

Executive Director of Graduate Admissions Kevin D. Miller T’03,’08 was a student in the Theological School during this important time of leadership. “My arrival to Drew as a student closely coincided with Dean Beach’s tenure,” he said. “I am not sure she had been there a full year when I came to Drew. I never thought about her tenure through the lens of gender, although some did. We were all too busy being inspired by her innovative leadership, motivated by her spirit for justice, and energized by her faith that impossible things could actually happen. Cross Cultural requirements (now TREC) implemented during her tenure expanded our understanding of the world; the introduction of the Black Thought with Black Thinkers course brought Black theologians and womanist scholars to Drew; and the creation of the PREP (Partnership for Religion and Education in Prisons Program) program under her leadership shifted the classroom setting from The Forest to the future.”


Anne Yardley

“It was a joy to work with Ginny and Maxine both because of the women they are and because I felt we were really aligned in wanting the school to be both challenging and hospitable to our students so that they would be prepared to serve the church,” said Yardley. “I remember going to my first meeting of the presidents and deans of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and finding the room full of white men. I think at that point we were the only school that had women in both of those jobs. ATS meetings were always a bit of a culture shock compared to being at Drew.”

“When Maxine came, it was like a dream come true. It was wonderful. I felt like I had come home,” said Samuel. “The three of us immediately got along very well, and that continued. There was a synchronicity between the three of us. It was always respectful. There were hard times, too. But we were able to have good, honest conversations.”

“I think a hallmark of that period was the respect we had for each other and for the work of the faculty,” echoed Yardley. “I always felt I could communicate directly and honestly with Maxine and Ginny without worrying about egos. Maxine genuinely tried to help faculty fulfill their dreams. Two examples of that would be the God Talk with Black Thinkers class and the Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium.”

“She was always unfailingly supportive and encouraging,” said Samuel, remembering collaboration for grant work, which yielded a successful outcome. “We would not have gotten a penny if not for Maxine Beach. She was very creative and innovative.”

“We have done better with diversity, but we still have not thrown the doors wide open for women,” said Beach, noting the women in leadership positions today throughout theological seminaries. “I had a really good ten years at Drew. I’m incredibly grateful for that being my last great job.”

“Drew is a special place,” said Samuel. “I’m more than grateful that I was able to be there all those years and be part of the strong intentionality to work for a better and equal society.”

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