Mary Lyon Educator – 1797

Mary Lyon educator

Mary Lyon was born on February 28, 1797, on a farm near Buckland, a town in western Massachusetts. Mary’s great-grandfathers had helped settle the area, and her father, Aaron, fought in the Revolutionary War. Her education began at the age of four, in the village school. Although most people thought that girls didn’t need to be educated, Mary attended school until the age of 13.

In 1814, Mary Lyon got her first teaching job at a summer school in Shelburne Falls. She was paid 75-cents a week, in contrast to the $12 a month men received to teach during the winter term.

Her job as a teacher fired her desire to continue her own education. Using a small inheritance, she paid for “knowledge by the handfuls.” In 1834, Mary focused her efforts on founding an institution of higher education for women. She was finally able to open the Mount Holyoke Seminary.

Her goals for the school were innovative for the time, and included:

  • A curriculum equivalent to those at men’s colleges.
  • Low tuition to make education affordable. Tuition was $60 a year.
  • Rigorous entrance examinations
  • No affiliation with a religious denomination or wealthy sponsor.
  • A wide base of financial support. She collected donations ranging from six cents to $1,000. She also collected quilts and bedding from women’s sewing circles.

Mary formed a Board of Trustees who donated their time to help Mount Holyoke succeed.

Is there a chance your ancestor might have attended Mount Holyoke? If so, what a legacy.



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Did you know a woman founded Mount Holyoke school? Read about her efforts to give women education.

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