Woman of the Century/Mary Lyon
LYON, Miss Mary, educator, born in Buckland, Mass. , 28th February, 1797 From long-lived ancestors, prominent for six generations in New England in all activities of church and State, she inherited a sound mind in a sound body and sterling qualities of character. From the common school she went to the academies in Ashfield and Amherst, Mass., and had been for seven years teaching successfully in the schools of Buckland and vicinity, when her thirst for knowledge led her, in 1821, to Rev. Joseph Emerson's seminary in Byfield, Mass. At that time it was generally thought that the common elements of education were sufficient for women, and that more learning tended to make them less useful. Mr. Emerson believed in a higher education for women and taught that it should be sought and used as a means of usefulness. After two terms under his teachings. MARY LYON. Miss Lyon was assistant principal for three years in the academy in Ashfield, a position never before occupied by a woman. For the next ten years she was associated with a former pupil and assistant of Mr. Emerson, Miss Grant, in an academy for girls in Deny, N. H. During the winter, when that school was closed, owing to the severity of the climate, she taught a school of her own in Ashland or Buckland, and subsequently in Ipswich, Mass. The six diplomas given their graduates in Deny in November, 1824, on completing a three-year course of study, were the first, so far as known, ever conferred on young women. Under more favorable auspices in Ipswich their marked success and the call from all parts of the Union for their graduates as teachers warranted the desire to perpetuate their school, and they pleaded for endowment, urging that it was as necessary for the permanence of a seminary for young women as of a college for young men. The public was apathetic, and their ppeals were fruitless. Failing in that effort. Miss Lyon left Ipswich, in 1834, alter much and close study of the problem, with the distinct purpose of founding a permanent institution designed to train young women for the highest usefulness. Her aim was not the benefit of oman primarily, but the good of the world through woman. She laid her plan before a few gentlemen in Ipswich, invited together for the purpose, 6th September, 1834. They appointed a committee to act till trustees should be incorporated. The committee issued circulars and delegated Rev Roswell Hawks to solicit funds. Miss Lyon's aims were pronounced visionary and impracticable. Her motives were misunderstood and misinterpreted. Many people had no faith in appeals for free gifts, a low salary for teachers was disapproved, and the domestic feature, regarded unadvisable by many, was ridiculed by others. Miss Lyon never doubted that the object would eventually commend itself to the common-sense of New England. She often went with Mr. Hawks from town to town, though at great cost of feeling, for she knew she was misjudged. The peculiar features of her plan became the means of its success. Within two months she collected from the women of Ipswich and vicinity nearly $1,000. What Ipswich Seminary did for her in the eastern part of the State, the Buckland school did in the western. She obtained the aid of a few-men of wealth, but, instead of depending on a few-large gifts, chose to gain the intelligent interest of the many with their smaller sums. On 11th February, 1836, the Governor of Massachusetts signed the charter incorporating Mount Holyoke Seminary, and on 3rd OctoWr the corner-stone was laid for a building to accommodate eighty students and their teachers. It was only half the size of the original plan, but was all that funds would then allow. As fast as money was received, it was used upon the building, and for furnishings Miss Lyon appealed to benevolent women. Sewing-societies in different towns gave each a bed and bedding or money for furniture and apparatus. After three years of labors and anxieties the school opened on 8th November, 1837. The house was not wholly finished nor fully furnished, but it was filled with eager students, who knew that twice their number were as eagerly waiting to take their places. Miss Lyon's threefold plan was then put to the third test. Her wondrous powers of invention were never called into more frequent or more successful use than in so adjusting her time-tables that literary and domestic departments should not interfere. Such was her skill in systematizing the work and in organizing her forces, every student giving an hour a day, that all the details of household cares were faithfully provided for, and without infringing on school work That feature of the plan, least understood and most ridiculed, was not introduced to teach housework. It was first thought of as one means of lessening outlay. It did contribute to that end, and for sixteen years the annual charge for board and tuition was only $60. But in its usefulness for creating a home atmosphere, for developing a spirit of self-help and of willing cooperation, and for cultivating other traits essential to making any home a happy one, Miss Lyon saw reasons in its favor so much stronger, even before it was put to test, that she seldom alluded to its economy, and afterwards often said: "If dollars and cents alone were concerned, we would drop it at once; the department is too complicated and requires too much care to be continued, were it not for its great advantages." Besides organizing and overseeing all the departments, she gave systematic religious instruction, matured a course of study and taught several branches herself. She was versatile and enthusiastic in the class-room and out of it. Her personal influence permeated the family. She was uniformly cheerful and often humorous. Her voice was sweet and strong. She was of full figure, pure pink and-white complexion, with clear blue eyes, wavy, light brown hair and a face that varied with every shade of feeling. Of the first year's students, four entered the senior and thirty-four the middle class. Their zeal for the seminary and that of their teachers were scarcely inferior to Miss Lyon's. Before the school opened, many feared that students could not be obtained without easier terms of admission, for the preparation required was in advance of what had generally been regarded as a finished education for girls. That fear was never realized, though the requirements were steadily increased. Nearly two-hundred were refused the first year, and four-hundred the second for want of room, in the fourth year the building was enlarged and its capacity doubled; yet applicants greatly exceeded accommodations. The three-year course of study was begun with the intention of extending it to four, and Miss Lyon continued to urge the change. But public opinion upon woman's education was such for many years that "the trustees," says the seminary journal, "are still afraid to venture it." It was made in 1862. She designed to include Latin and French and wished time for Greek and Hebrew, but, because the views of the community would not allow it sooner, she waited ten years before Latin had a place in the required course. Yet there were classes in Latin and in French almost from the first For eleven-and-a-half years she was spared to perfect her plans, simplifying each department and reducing its details to such order that others could take them in charge. Her successors continued her progressive work. It contributed to the change in public opinion that created colleges for women, and a new charter in 1888 granted full college powers to Mount Holyoke Seminary and College. From the first the seminary had a decidedly religious, though not sectarian, character. Miss Lyon lived to see not less than eleven special revivals and nearly five-hundred hopeful conversions there. Hundreds of her pupils became home-missionaries or teachers in the West and South. Nearly seventy were connected with foreign missions. Miss Lyon never would accept from the institution more than a salary of $200 and a home within its walls, and nearly half that salary she gave to missions. She died 5th March, 1849. Late in February she was suffering with a severe cold and nervous headache, when she learned of a fatal turn in the illness of a student. Regardless of herself, she went to the sufferer with words of comfort and help. Her own illness was brief and attended with delirium. The marble above her grave bears the sentence from one of her last talks with her school: "There is nothing in the universe that I fear, but that I shall not know my duty, or shall fail to do it."