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Margaret Tingle, Birmingham’s Renaissance woman

May 12, 2012

(Note:  Kaquanta Barlow, a UAB spring semester intern at the Birmingham History Center, spent much of her time cataloging artifacts of Birmingham’s Margaret Aileen Tingle. Tingle, born in 1915, worked decades for the Birmingham Parks and Recreation department, taught high school P.E., coached and played girls sports, and trained–but did not compete–as a sprinter in the 1936 Olympics. Kaquanta’s blog, below, is based on just some of the information stored in boxes of Tingle’s mementos that were donated at her death in 2007 and give a glimpse into an unusual life’s work for a woman of her era.)

Kaquanta and Miss Tingle’s infamous bike.

Margaret Tingle graduated from Ensley High School in Birmingham, but her education did not end there.  She continued to take courses in architecture, antiques, Arabic, and art. Around this time the Great Depression was devastating the United States, driving most families into a painful state of poverty. Margaret’s father left to find work during this time, but he never returned. This left Margaret as the supporter of the family, providing for both her mother until her death, and for a time, her a brother.

While filing her information in the database I found numerous letters from friends and colleagues wishing her mother well and good health, as she was very ill.  But none of them mentioned her brother, who perhaps he died at a young age or just moved out when he became an adult.
The 1936 Summer Olympics represented yet another hard time in the life of Margaret Tingle and many others.  Margaret had been preparing for the 1936 Summer Olympics, planning to try out as a sprinter and riding her bike every day as exercise (and because she didn’t get a driver’s license until 1950s). The 1936 Olympics were to be held in Germany. Past feelings from World War I and the recent takeover of Hitler in 1933 caused many Americans to question the morality of supporting the games, in fear that this would be taken as support of the Nazi regime.

Tingle, fourth from right, and the 1932 Ensley High School Varsity girl’s basketball team.

Many people across the world decided to boycott the Olympics, although 49 countries —  more than any other before that time — did.  Margaret Tingle did not, and the reason why is a mystery.
Even after the disappointment of the Olympics, Margaret did not stop being involved in recreational activities. She taught P.E. at both Blessed Sacrament Academy and John Carroll High School. Many documents, such as absences from class and excuses from students or

Tingle received an award in 1979 from the Alabama Recreation and Parks Society, “For outstanding service made to the cause of recreation in Alabama.” Her career with the parks department spanned 45 years.

parents, remained in her possession. She also kept much of the artwork drawn for her by various students over the years. In addition to that, she kept letters, Christmas cards, and even non-school related invitation that her students wanted her to attend.

The fact that she kept these souvenirs all her life shows her dedication to her work and to her students.  Tingle also kept in touch with many of the nuns that worked at BSA and JCH after she stopped working there.
Tingle’s primary career was with the Birmingham Park and Recreation department, where she worked from 1933 to 1978. She served as the park director for Harrison Park and Ensley Park, and also led the Lane Park Day Camp.  Tingle even kept receipts from when she had to order things for the park. She was responsible for planning many of the events and keeping a survey of the amount of participation at each park. Margaret Tingle kept many of the inter-office communications which shine a light on what was going on behind the closed doors of the recreation board. These communications pertained to things as simple as urging the workers to get health care to trickier business like how to handle problems between supervisors and other workers.

Tingle as a young woman. Sports wasn’t her only interest.

In her later years, Tingle took an interest in international travel. She went to Bath, England to study British history. She also had a special interest in preserving Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens. She taught Sunday school for many years at both Ensley Baptist Church and West End Baptist Church. Margaret Tingle died on January 13, 2007 and is buried at Oak Cemetery. She left behind a legacy of hard work and dedication in everything she did.

[Author Kaquanta Barlow, 23, was born and raised in Montgomery. She will graduate from UAB this month with a bachelor’s degree in history and minors in biology and chemistry.  With a long-term goal of being a cardiothoracic surgeon, she hopes to be admitted to the Baylor College of Medicine.]

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