Mary Lyon

1797–1849

Born in Buckland, Massachusetts, Mary had a difficult childhood; her father died when she was six, and seven years later her mother remarried and moved away, leaving her in the care of her brother Aaron. She attended various district schools when she was able, and in 1814 she began teaching at them as well. Eventually, she was able to attend two secondary schools, after which she began teaching at several academies, two of which were run by Zilpah Grant, the assistant to her former headmaster. Several years later, she helped found Wheaton Female Seminary—now Wheaton College—in Massachusetts.

In 1837, Mary made her own dreams come true when she officially opened Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (presently Mount Holyoke College), similar in nature to Grant’s schools but willing to provide education to women of all backgrounds. She promoted high academic standards, insisted upon daily exercise, and, in order to keep costs low, required her students to perform domestic tasks at the college. She soon attracted a student of 200 young women, and she equipped her pupils with a rigorous education aimed at changing the standard role of women, with particular emphasis on the sciences.

Mary died in 1849 after contracting erysipelas, a dangerous bacterial infection. In 1905, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, and the Mary Lyon dormitories at Swarthmore College and Plymouth State University are named in her honor.


Key events during the life of Mary Lyon:


Year
Event
1797
Born.
1803
Father died.
1810
Mother remarried and moved away, leaving her in the care of her older brother.
1814
Began teaching at various elementary schools.
1834
Helped establish Wheaton Female Seminary.
1837
Opened Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
1849
Died.


Contemporary
Short Biography
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton Early leader in the female suffrage, and temperance movement.
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