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.
|Mother remarried and moved away, leaving her in the care of her older brother.|
|Began teaching at various elementary schools.|
|Helped establish Wheaton Female Seminary.|
|Opened Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.|
|Influential Quaker leader who advocated the rights of women. Held relatively conservative views among early feminists.|
|Early leader in the female suffrage, and temperance movement.|
|Reformer who sought to better the conditions of the mentally ill.|