History with Chuck: Remembering ‘Miss Carrie’, longest serving teacher in Cheltenham history

Miss Carrie V. Speck, a Cheltenham native born in 1860, is a former Cheltenham schoolteacher who worked a district-record 50 years until her retirement in 1926.

According to local historian Chuck Langerman, Speck went to township schools but never attended Cheltenham High since it didn’t exist during her teenage years. At age 16, she began teaching in the lower grades at the Cheltenham School (grades 1-8) while continuing her studies through night school at the University of Pennsylvania.  

She became the school’s principal in 1882. The Cheltenham School was replaced by the Heller School on Ashbourne Road and Speck was that school’s first principal. She also served as chairman of the history department and finished her career as the high school librarian.

In 1905 she was transferred to the newly built Cheltenham High School, on High School Rd in Elkins Park, where she remained until her retirement in 1926. She taught English, history, pedagogy, algebra, and penmanship. She lived 1.5 miles from campus, a distance she walked twice a day, sometimes through rain, sleet, and snow.  

Her retirement ceremony acknowledged Speck as the only teacher in Pennsylvania history who taught in one district for 50 consecutive years. Out of appreciation for her career and contributions to the development of the Cheltenham School District through its early years, the Board of School Directors at their meeting of June 2, 1926, unanimously adopted the following unprecedented resolution:

The Board hereby agrees in consideration of the exceptional period of faithful service of Carrie V. Speck to pay to Miss Speck the difference between her present salary and the allowance to which she is now entitled from the Teachers’ Retirement Fund until Miss Speck shall reach the age of seventy years and thereafter for the remainder of her life the difference between her present retirement allowance and the retirement allowance.

Speck with her husband, Zedekiah Copp

Speck, who described herself as an “old maid for 75 years,” married Zedekiah Copp, a retired Presbyterian minister, at the age of 76.

For her 103rd birthday, a group of her former Cheltenham school pupils journeyed to the Cornwall Methodist Church Home to pay her a visit. The Philadelphia Inquirer published the article shown in the feature photo in late June, 1963, about six months before her passing.

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