An Education Pioneer

Mary Lyon was born in 1797 in Massachusetts. Her parents had a farm, and her childhood was a tough one. Mary lost her father when she was five and her mother at age 13 when she remarried and abandoned her children. Mary stayed to take care of her brother.

In spite of her duties at home, Mary was able to get an education. She admired the discipline of her schooling, and that became a trademark of her future life.

Mary became a teacher at female seminaries. Based on her success as a teacher, she was asked to raise funds to create a seminary that equaled the curriculum of men’s academics. The Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was created in 1837 based on Mary’s fundraising efforts.

Mount Holyoke was unique in that it served students who came from families of modest resources.  Tuition was a third of that of other schools. Students were expected to support the school by doing tasks necessary to run the school.

Mary believed in instilling strong discipline in students in addition to their academic studies. This included a rigid physical regime. It didn’t take long for Mount Holyoke to become well thought of, especially in sciences which were often denied to women at other schools.

Mary’s approach was one that expected students to make gradual progress rather than sudden leaps. Her students achieved at high levels. As other women’s colleges (e.g., Vassar, Wellesley) became established, they followed the Mount Holyoke model.

Mary died at the age of 52 from an illness she most likely caught from a student in her care. She was buried on the campus.

Hidden heroes often accomplish much more than would have been expected of them based on their socioeconomic status. Often their achievements are a product of their adverse beginning which gives them the discipline and values for success.

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“If anyone thinks he has no responsibilities, it is because he has not sought them out.” – Mary Lyon

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