Honoring Mary Lyon
A schoolteacher from Massachusetts
an American pioneer,a remarkable woman who founded the worldwide model of higher education for women--
Though there are several women I could have chosen to honor, Mary Lyon was a "local" of my beloved western Massachusetts; born and raised in Buckland. Like me, an educator. She was the founder of my elder daughter's college- Mount Holyoke, from which she graduated last year. Still a women's school and one the oldest of the few remaining in the U.S. MHC is no longer a seminary. One of my favorite poets and icons, Emily Dickinson, attended classes there from 1847-48. All of these things come together so seamlessly that it made sense for me to learn more about her and share it with you.
True to the spirit of Mary Lyon, my daughter, a poor girl, was able to attend a first-class liberal arts college where she honed her intellect and where her confidence and self-esteem were nurtured and her independent spirit encouraged and appreciated. As a woman and as her mother, I am grateful for that.
I can't say enough about both the college's academics and the spirit of achievement, success and pride that are celebrated there. Thank you, Mary Lyon, for being a trailblazer for women.
The year, 1834, was a turning point for Mary Lyon. She decided to leave Ipswich Female Seminary, where she was assistant principal, and focus all of her time and efforts on founding an institution of higher education for women. For the next three years, she crusaded tirelessly for funds and support. It was not the best time to ask people for donations--the United States was in a severe economic depression. But Mary Lyon persisted. She wrote circulars and ads announcing the plan for the school, raised money, persuaded prominent men to back her enterprise, developed a curriculum, visited schools and talked to educators as far away as Detroit, chose the school's location, supervised the design and construction of a building, brought equipment, hired teachers, and selected students. She endured ridicule from those who felt her ambitious undertaking would be "wasted" on women. Her constant travels often left her in a state of exhaustion. Yet, Mary Lyon never doubted her belief that women deserved to have the same opportunities for higher education as their brothers.
Mary Lyon's innovative goals for Mount Holyoke set the Seminary apart from other female seminaries of the period. They were:
A curriculum equivalent to those at men's colleges.
A minimum entrance age of 17.
Low tuition to make education affordable to students from modest backgrounds. Mount Holyoke's was $60 a year.
In 1987, to commemorate the sesquecentennial of MHC, a Mary Lyon stamp was issued by the US Postal service. On the first day of issue, several kinds of envelopes were stamped and postmarked with the new stamp. All covers on this page were postmarked Feb 28, 1987 in South Hadley with a "First day of issue" postmark, and have a 2-cent Mary Lyon stamp on them, unless otherwise noted.
What woman or women in history do you appreciate the most and why?