May 31, 1921 – March 1, 2001
Mary Priscilla Luetscher grew up in LaSalle/Peru, Illinois. Her mother was a chemist and her father was an engineer. Oliver Luetscher, her father, moved his family to a farm on RR#1 in Tiskilwa in 1933 when Mary Priscilla was 12 years old. Oliver insisted, after living in the Great Depression, that he would hereafter always be able to grow his own food.
Mary Priscilla graduated from Washington University in St. Louis where her major was Speech Therapy. Her mentor while there was Mildred McGinnis who pioneered ways to teach soldiers how to regain their speech after World War I head injuries took it away. Ms. McGinnis soon made the connection to teaching aphasic children to speak and then deaf children to speak successfully using her modified Association Method. Mary Priscilla became very adept and involved in this form of speech therapy. She thrived in this environment and graduated with a desire to teach and help others.
She met Kent McQueen, who was attending Washington University’s School of Medicine. They married upon his return from WWII duty in France in 1946. They moved to Tiskilwa in 1948 where Kent set up his medical practice.
While nurturing their growing family of 6 children, their household was a place where curiosity and learning was constantly encouraged. Priscilla established a private practice teaching speech lessons to students from Tiskilwa, Princeton and surrounding towns in her basement classroom. This soon started to include teaching struggling students to read as her study of speech inspired a new approach to learning to read. She was having great success with all her students.
Bloucke Carus, a childhood friend from Peru, Illinois became aware of her successes and partnered with her to use his family’s small publishing company to publish and distribute a new phonics reading program using the McQueen Method. The Open Court Basic Readers went on sale in 1963. These books soon were part of school curriculums nationwide.
At a time when most women were full time housewives, Priscilla was forging ahead with her business. As if she didn’t have enough on her hands raising a large family; she started writing textbooks, and holding workshops for classroom teachers nationwide. She became a member of the National Council of Reading Foundation and was selected to serve as co-chairman of the Illinois committee. Amidst this, she decided to open her own publishing company.
She established McQueen Publishing Company onsite at the same farm her father owned. After her father died, her mother talked her into moving her large family into the farmhouse. She turned several outbuildings into a printing press room, book bindery, graphic arts department, inventory storage and a shipping office. She also stepped in to help manage the farm.
Priscilla traveled the country lecturing on the advantages and successes of her reading program, steadily building a large base of public and private schools as clients. However, no matter how far away she traveled or how busy she was, Priscilla was always focused on being of service to the community. Her farm classroom was always busy when she was in town, and Priscilla never stopped teaching or giving back to her community. She was active in education until 1999 when she retired and moved to Peoria to be closer to her family.
Several years ago, Maggie McQueen, the author of this tribute and also a teacher, gave a presentation about her mother’s work to the Tiskilwa Historical Society. She was honored to hear so many members of the audience share their personal experiences of how Priscilla had changed the course of their lives by helping them with their reading skills when they had almost given up hope.
Priscilla McQueen was a leader in phonics education and ahead of her time as she successfully maneuvered her way through balancing family life and business needs.
The Museum on Main in Tiskilwa contains a collection of Priscilla McQueen’s books. For more information on the Tiskilwa Historical Society, click here.
Center featured painting above by Mary Win Walter Norris. All photos and images provided by Maggie McQueen.