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Van Leer Family Papers

Identifier: MS458

  • Staff Only


This collection documents the personal and family life of Blake Ragsdale Van Leer and Ella Wall Van Leer, their children, and their grandchildren.


  • ca. 1813-ca. 1980 (bulk dates 1908-1975)


General Physical Description note

(45 half- and full-size document cases, 11 oversize boxes)

Restrictions: Access

Restrictions apply to parts of the correspondence in Series 2.

Restrictions: Use

Permission to publish materials from this collection must be obtained from the Head of Archives and Special Collections.


24.4 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of materials created by four members of the Van Leer family: Blake Ragsdale Van Leer; Ella Wall Van Leer; Blake Wayne Van Leer; and Margaret Anne Weaver Van Leer (known as Anne). Other family members, mainly the children and grandchildren of Blake Ragsdale and Ella Wall Van Leer, are also featured in this collection.

Series 1 documents the life of Blake Ragsdale Van Leer, fifth President of Georgia Tech. While the Early Presidents Collection at the Georgia Tech Archives (UA004) covers his professional life at Tech, this collection documents Van Leer's personal life, as well as his professional life prior to his arrival at Tech in 1944. Extensive material on Van Leer's Army career is included here. In addition, mementos and documents from his education at the Masonic Home, Big Springs High School, Purdue, and Europe form part of the series, as well as personal and professional correspondence dating from his years at North Carolina State and the University of Florida, and in Washington. A scrapbook contains personal materials documenting his education, his early life, and his marriage to Ella Wall.

Series 2 contains the papers of Ella Wall Van Leer. Her career as a teacher and artist, her work at Egleston Hospital, her advocacy of the education of women at Georgia Tech, her extensive work in genealogy, her marriage, her children and grandchildren, and her personal life both before and after the death of her husband are all extensively documented in this series.

Series 3 is made up of the personal papers of Blake Wayne Van Leer, elder son of Blake Ragsdale and Ella Wall Van Leer. Correspondence from Ella Wall Van Leer and other family, commencement programs, certificates and diplomas, programs and publications documenting Van Leer's career in the Navy, and some college and high school coursework is included in this series.

Correspondence from family, scrapbooks, and wedding books document the life of Margaret Anne Weaver Van Leer in Series 4. Also included are materials on Clifton, Virginia, Blake Wayne and Anne Van Leer's home from 1965 until the early 1980s.

Biography of Van Leer Family

The Van Leer family members include Blake Ragsdale Van Leer (1893-1956), fifth President of the Georgia Institute of Technology; his wife Ella Lillian Wall Van Leer (1892-1986); their children, Blake Wayne Van Leer (1926-1997), Maryly Van Leer Peck (1930-2011), and Samuel Wall Van Leer (born 1934); the spouses of their children; and several grandchildren.

Blake Ragsdale Van Leer was born August 11, 1893 in Magnum, Texas (now Oklahoma.) He was the child of Maurice Langhorne Van Leer (1865-1897) and the former Mary McKee Tarleton (1868-1954). After his father died, Van Leer and his sister Sudie attended the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth, Texas. He completed his studies at the Masonic Home in 1909. He then attended Big Springs High School in Big Spring, Texas, graduating in 1911.

Van Leer continued his education at Purdue University, receiving a B. S. in electrical engineering in 1915. After graduating, he joined the faculty of the University of California. He served in World War I from 1917 to 1919 in the 316th Engineer Corps of the U. S. Army in France. After studying at the University of Caen in France for a year after the war, Van Leer was released from active duty and returned to Berkeley, where he continued his position on the faculty. He received an M. S. in mechanical engineering from Berkeley in 1920. Two years later, in 1922, he received a second master's degree from Purdue. (He later received two honorary doctorates, one from Washington and Jefferson College and the other from Purdue.)

Van Leer married Ella Lillian Wall in Berkeley, California, on 6 September 1924. In 1927, he was awarded the Freeman Traveling Scholarship from the American Society of Mechanical Engineering for study in Germany, where he attended university in Munich. On his return, he was appointed assistant secretary of the American Engineering Council in Washington, DC.

In 1932 Van Leer became Dean of Engineering at the University of Florida. Five years later, in 1937, he was appointed Dean of Engineering at North Carolina State University. During World War II, he took a leave of absence from North Carolina State to serve as Chief of the Facilities Branch, Army Specialized Training Division in Washington, DC. In 1944 he was again released from active duty.

Van Leer became the fifth President of the Georgia School of Technology on July 1, 1944. At Tech, Van Leer initiated a period of dramatic change. His goals included furthering graduate education and research, and making the school a major technological university. He presided over an extensive program of building and development at Tech and instituted important changes in the administration. In 1948, to emphasize the institute's new standing, Tech's name was changed from the Georgia School of Technology to the Georgia Institute of Technology. Van Leer was also a strong proponent of science education for women, and under his supervision the first full-time undergraduate female students arrived at Tech in the fall of 1952. Van Leer, despite his stern military bearing, proved to be a president willing to communicate with the students and faculty, and was well liked. However, in 1955 and 1956 his health declined, and he suffered a heart attack in January 1956. He died while still in office on 23 January 1956.

Van Leer's career in the United States Army began with his appointment as Second Lieutenant Engineer in the Officer's Reserve Corps in July 1917. The next year he was promoted to First Lieutenant Engineer. After World War I, he became a Captain Engineer of the Officer's Reserve Corps; after a reappointment in 1925, he was promoted to Major, Corps of Engineers in 1928. He became Lieutenant Colonel in October 1942, on his appointment to the Army Specialized Training Division. His promotion to Colonel occurred in October of the following year. Several periods of active duty took place throughout the period between 1917 and 1952. He retired from the Army in 1953.

Ella Lillian Wall was born on November 21, 1892 in Berkeley to A. Conrad Wall, a marine engineer, and his wife, the former Mary E. Leaf. A graduate of Berkeley High School in 1910, she received an A.M. in 1914 and an M.A. in Art and Architecture in 1915 from the University of California-Berkeley, where she was a member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. She later taught at several high schools in California, including Glendale High School (1915-1917), San Mateo High School (1917-1918 and 1920), and Oakland Technical High School (1920-1925 and 1927-1929). During World War I, Wall enlisted in the Army Nursing Corps at Letterman General Hospital Presidio in San Francisco in July 1918. Her specialty became electrotherapy and surgical illustration. Mobilized for overseas duty in November 1918, she returned to the United States in March 1920, where she served the U.S.A. General Hospital 3 in Colonia, New Jersey, in charge of facial paralysis cases. After returning to California to teach, in 1923 she served as second vice commander of the Berkeley Post No. 7 of the American Legion, thereby becoming the first woman to serve in an office of the American Legion in California.

After Ella Wall's marriage to Blake Ragsdale Van Leer in 1924, the couple had three children, Blake Wayne (born in 1926 in Berkeley), Maryly (born in 1930 in Washington, DC), and Samuel Wall (born in 1934 in Gainesville, Florida). During her marriage, Ella Van Leer remained active as an artist and architect. In World War II, she worked at the Office of the Quartermaster General as a principal draftsman and technologist of the research and development branch in Washington. After her husband's death in 1956, she was active as the President of the Auxiliary at Egleston Hospital from 1957 to 1959, and as Director of Volunteers at the Hospital from about 1959 until her retirement in 1976. She also became active in the Georgia Tech chapter of the Society of Women Engineers from the time when Georgia Tech first began admitting women in 1952, during her husband's tenure as President, and she remained a strong advocate for women in engineering throughout her life. In her later years, she enjoyed travel, taking several trips sponsored by the Alumni Association at Georgia Tech with friends and family. She also was influential in the lives of her children and grandchildren, and remained connected to Georgia Tech by living close to campus and supporting the women undergraduates.

Blake Wayne Van Leer, the elder son of Blake Ragsdale and Ella Wall Van Leer, was born on 13 January 1926 in Berkeley, California. After attending Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, NC, Van Leer studied at North Carolina State College and Duke University, graduating from Duke with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1945. He later received a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic (1953), and a Master's degree in Civil Engineering from Princeton (1959). He entered the Navy in 1943 and held several prominent positions during his career, rising to the rank of Captain by the time of his retirement in 1971. After retirement he became the President and Corporate Administrator of Urban Pathfinders Inc. He married the former Margaret Anne Weaver (1923-2001; known as Anne) in February 1947, and together they had three children. Anne Van Leer attended the same high school as Blake Wayne Van Leer; she trained as a nurse at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, graduating in 1945. The couple divorced in about 1981. Van Leer later married Colleen Jennings, who survived him at his death in October 1997.

Maryly Van Leer, only daughter of Blake Ragsdale and Ella Wall Van Leer, was born on 29 June 1930 in Washington, DC. She received a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering (magna cum laude) from Vanderbilt University in 1951, becoming the first woman to be initiated into Tau Beta Pi, the honorary engineering fraternity. In 1955 she became the first woman to receive a Master's degree in Engineering from the University of Florida. She later received a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering there (1963). She married Jordan Brown Peck, Jr. (1929-2013) in 1951, and the couple had four children. Maryly Van Leer Peck went on to have a distinguished career in engineering and higher education administration, at institutions in Guam, Arizona, and Maryland. She died in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2011.

Samuel Wall Van Leer, the younger son of Blake Ragsdale and Ella Wall Van Leer, was born on 24 September 1934 in Gainesville, Florida. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering in 1957, Van Leer became a teacher and basketball coach. He worked for many years at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta; in 1995, he became the headmaster at Beaches Episcopal School in Florida, serving there until his retirement in 2001. He married the former Mary Alice Van Kirk, and the couple had three children.


The collection has been divided into four series, some of which are further divided into subseries.

  1. SERIES 1. Blake Ragsdale Van Leer
  2. SERIES 2. Ella Wall Van Leer
  3. SERIES 3. Blake Wayne Van Leer
  4. SERIES 4. Margaret Anne Weaver Van Leer

Other Finding Aids

A print copy of this finding aid is available on request in the Georgia Tech Archives reading room.


Donation, 2013 (accession number 2013.045).

Related Materials

For the professional career of Blake Ragsdale Van Leer at Georgia Tech, see also the Early Presidents Collection, Series 4 (UA004). For further information on Ella Wall Van Leer's time at Georgia Tech, see the Georgia Tech Faculty Women's Club Records (UA301).

Separated Material

Artifacts, including ceramics, a music box, and other items have been removed to the artifacts collection. Visual materials, including photographs and Ella Wall Van Leer's art work, have been separated and will be processed as VAM458.

General Physical Description note

(45 half- and full-size document cases, 11 oversize boxes)

Processing Information

Christine de Catanzaro, Taylor Prichard, and Germaine Schanzmeyer processed Series 1 of these papers in March 2014. Christine de Catanzaro processed Series 2 through 4, with major contributions from Eleanor Kinlaw Ross (Series 2) and Ruth V. Fuller (Series 4), in June and July 2014.

Inventory of the Van Leer Family Papers, 1813-ca. 1980 (bulk dates 1908-1975)
Christine de Catanzaro
Copyright March 2014.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Library, Georgia Institute of Technology Repository

Georgia Institute of Technology
266 4th Street, NW
Atlanta 30332-0900 USA