Mary Lyon

From Academic Kids

For the geneticist also called Mary Lyon see Mary F. Lyon.

Mary Mason Lyon (28 February 1797 - 5 March 1849) was the founder of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Born in Buckland, Massachusetts, she was a pioneer in women’s education in America.

She created the first curriculum at Wheaton College, (then called Wheaton Female Seminary), a year before founding Mount Holyoke in 1837. She served as the principal at Mount Holyoke for twelve years until her death there.

Mary's father, Aaron Lyon, died when she was five, so her mother, Jemima Shepard Lyon, taught her farm trades until she remarried and left, leaving Mary and her brother, also named Aaron, behind to fend for themselves. Mary was thirteen at the time. Afterwards, she kept house, and her brother, who had taken over ownership of the farm, paid her one silver dollar per week for her services.

Throughout this time, Mary went to school in Buckland, where she was lucky to be able to attend year-round. At that time, girls would usually be able to attend school during the summer, when the boys were needed in the fields, and the teacher had nothing else to do. In spring, fall, and winter, girls would be forced to sit outside of the school house listening for tidbits of the teacher's lessons. Mary was an avid learner, as shown by her mastery of English grammar in four days and Latin grammar in three.

Mary's fairly extensive education was enough to get her a teaching job in the neighboring town of Shelburne Falls when she was 17. Mary was paid 75 cents, while her male counterparts were making 2 to 3 dollars. At the time, female teachers were somewhat in demand, as men were moving west and were therefore harder to find.

Now that Mary was teaching, she felt that she needed and wanted more education. At the time, there were many female seminaries in the New England area, but their curricula did not interest her. These seminaries taught arts which they thought pertinent to being a lady, such as embroidery, and theorem painting (painting on velvet). More over, these were expensive schools, which were meant to train wealthy young women, and Mary was not of the upper class. Mary wanted to learn the subjects which were taught at male schools, mathematics, science, Latin, and history. Nevertheless, Mary was able to pull together enough money from her inheritance, wages, and from making blankets and coverlets to get a part time education at Amherst and Ashfield academies.

Mary became an excellent teacher, and her reputation spread. She was invited to be part of many schools throughout New England, and was soon at the forefront of education for women.

As Mary's experience grew, so too did the stability of her philosophy. Mary saw the inequality of education between man and woman, and she intended to do something about it. She decided to create an institution for the higher education of women which would be equal or superior to a male school on multiple facets. Mary's school would be the first real college for women in America. At the time, there were already about 120 male colleges, some, like Harvard, almost 200 years old. Mary would raise funds for her school tirelessly for the next three years, traveling from Boston all the way to Detroit for money even though the country was in the midst of a severe economic depression. Then, on November 8, 1837, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was born. Students were told to bring a Bible, an atlas, a dictionary, and two spoons.

Mount Holyoke was a great success, and in its second year, had to turn away more than half of its applicants.

Mary Lyon died and was buried at Mount Holyoke, where she rests to this day.

USS Mary Lyon (AP-71), a World War II transport ship in the United States Navy, was named for her.

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