Mary Louise Willing was born in October of 1878 and received her first musical instruction when 8 years old from her father, Professor William Willing, concert pianist, organist, and composer. She and her sister Abbie often performed in local church programs, Mary at the piano and Abbie on the violin.
She was a pupil of Louis Mathias at the age of twelve and at only sixteen she went into the
highly technical study of music with John Emil Ecker. She made her debut as pianist with the Toledo Maennerchor at Memorial Hall. She gave a recital a year later in the old St. Paul's Church. She was one of the few "outsiders" ever permitted to perform with the strictly German Toledo Maennerchor group.
She continued the study of piano upon her father's death with Allie Finch, her father's pupil, and continued with Nellie Goodwin, singer. She then took a short course in harmony from Arthur W. Kortheuer at the Smead School for Girls, continuing piano lessons, a complete course of instruction in piano, harmony, and counterpoint. About that time Miss Willing wrote her first song, "The Secret". Her song "Memory" was used by several great artists at the time. Besides secular songs, she wrote a number of sacred anthems.
After two months with S. D. Cushing, organist at the First Congregational Church and a pupil of Guilmant, Miss Willing was engaged as organist of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. She retained this position for ten years and succeeded Charles H. Thompson upon death as choir director.
Miss Willing considered that to read and understand a full orchestral score is the highest possible musical joy. When elected conductor of the Toledo Choral Society, she resolved to direct always from full orchestral score.
During Mary Willing Meagley’s 35 years as conductor of the Toledo Choral Society, works by 32 composers were performed by the organization. Included in these works were those by Mrs. Meagley herself and the late David Stanley Smith, another Toledo composer. Before her retirement as director of the Choral Society in 1954, Mrs. Meagley was widely known for the annual Christmas presentation of Handel's The Messiah, a tradition still carried on by the Choral Society.
In addition to conducting the Toledo Choral Society, which at one time had 375 voices, Mrs. Willing Meagley directed high school music and taught music appreciation classes at the former Smead School for Girls. She was organist and director of the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, concert accompanist and coach, teacher of piano, organ, harmony and counterpoint and division director of the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs. She was a member of the Zonta Club and held membership in the Sarnagarna Club. She was the first president of the Toledo Piano Teachers Association and was one of a group to establish music credits in public schools. She was president of the Ohio Music Teachers Association and affiliated with the Toledo chapter of Monday Musicals, American Guild of Organists, Euterpean Club, and Mu Phi Epsilon sorority.
Mary Willing Meagley passed away in 1968 and in memory of this grand lady of Toledo and area music the Toledo Choral Society respectfully dedicated its 50th anniversary season, 1968-1969, to her.