Lyon, Mary (1797-1849)

Founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary

Mary-Lyon-from-Gilchrists-Life1-183x300Born in Buckland, Massachusetts, Lyon’s interest in missions was sparked with the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810. Inspired at age 19 by a sermon preached by her great-uncle Enos Smith, and later by her teacher Joseph Emerson at Byfield Female Seminary, she decided to commit her life to furthering the missionary cause through education. For a while, she taught at Ipswich Seminary but then turned her efforts toward establishing a new college for women, with an emphasis on missions. She obtained support by traveling from town to town requesting financial contributions and donations of domestic furnishings. Initially rebuffed by the general assembly of Massachusetts, she ultimately won approval for chartering the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, at South Hadley, Massachusetts.

On November 8, 1837, Lyon welcomed the first class of eighty students. Serving as principal for the first 12 years, she selected her teachers from among her former pupils from Ipswich Seminary and Mount Holyoke itself. Her ideal was to educate the entire woman, each student having her share of academics, domestic chores, and spiritual enrichment through Bible study, prayer, and worship. Her philosophy was “study and teach nothing that cannot be made to help in the great work of converting the world to Christ.” In A Missionary Offering (1843), her only published work, she stressed the importance of supporting missions. She frequently invited missionaries to speak at the seminary, and many of her students were inspired to travel overseas or serve at home as missionaries and teachers, some founding schools based on Mount Holyoke’s principles.Mount-Holyoke-Seminary-from-Fiskes-Recollections-300x180

Lyon’s health began to decline during the winter of 1846-1847. She died two years later at age 52, following a bout with erysipelas. In 1888 Mount Holyoke received college status and remains a well-respected institution for the education of women.

Joan R. Duffy, “Lyon, Mary,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 418.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Bibliography

Personal papers of Lyon are available at the Mount Holyoke College library/archives, South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA.

Digital Texts


Adams, Elmer Cleveland. Heroines of Modern Progress. New York: Sturgis & Walton Co., 1913. See especially chapter two, “Mary Lyon,” 30-57.

Banks, Louis Albert. The Religious Life of Famous Americans. Boston: American Tract Society, 1904.

Bolton, Sarah Knowles. Lives of Girls Who Became Famous. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1886. See especially, “Mary Lyons…Teacher” by Harriet G. Hosmer, 122-40.

Douglas, Mrs. John. Life Story of Mary Lyon: Founder of Mt. Holyoke College. Minneapolis, MN: The Beard Art and Stationary Co., 1897.

Fiske, Fidelia. Recollections of Mary Lyon: With Selections from her Instructions to the Pupils in Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary. Boston: American Tract Society, 1866.

General View of the Principles and Design of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Published by Direction of the Trustees. Boston: printed by Perkins & Marvin, 1837.

Gilchrist, Beth B. The Life of Mary Lyon. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1910.

Gracey, Annie Ryder. Eminent Missionary Women. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898.

Hitchcock, Edward. The Power of Christian Benevolence, Illustrated in the Life and Labors of Mary Lyon. [Boston]: American Tract Society, 1838.

Horton, Edith. A Group of Famous Women: Stories of Their Lives. Boston, New York, and Chicago: D. C. Heath and Co., 1914.

Lansing, Marion (ed.). Mary Lyon through Her Letters. Boston: Books, Inc., 1937.

Parkman, Mary Rosetta. Heroines of Service: Mary Lyon, Alice Freeman Palmer, Clara Barton, Frances Willard, Julia Ward Howe, Anna Shaw, Mary Antin, Alice C. Fletcher, Mary Slessor of Calabar, Madame Curie, Jane Addams. New York: The Century Co., 1921.

Thayer, William Makepeace. The Good Girl and True Woman: Or, Elements of Success Drawn from the Life of Mary Lyon and Other Similar Characters. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1866. Orig. 1858.

_____. The True Woman: Elements of Character Drawn from the Life of Mary Lyon and Others. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1893.

Williams, Sherman. Some Successful Americans. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1904.

Primary


General View of the Principles and Design of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Published by Direction of the Trustees. Boston: printed by Perkins & Marvin, 1837.

Hartley, James E. (ed.). Mary Lyon, Documents and Writings. South Hadley, MA: Doorlight Publications, 2008.

Lyon, Mary. A Missionary Offering, or, Christian Sympathy, Personal Responsibility, and the Present Crisis of Foreign Missions. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1843. Reprinted in Mary Lyon, Documents and Writings, edited by James E. Hartley, 235ff. South Hadley, MA: Doorlight Publications, 2008.

Lansing, Marion (ed.). Mary Lyon through Her Letters. Boston: Books, Inc., 1937. Also Boucher Press, 2007.

Secondary


Allen, Deborah W. “Accommodating Conscience and Culture: Mary Lyon’s Appropriation of Jonathan Edwards in Personal Devotion and Public Evangelism.” M.A. thesis. California State University, Dominguez Hills, 2008.

Banning, Evelyn I. Mary Lyon of Putnam’s Hill; A Biography. New York: Vanguard Press, [1965].

Conforti, Joseph. “Mary Lyon, the Founding of Mount Holyoke College, and the Cultural Revival of Jonathan Edwards.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3 no. 1 (Winter 1993): 69-69.

Daugherty, Sonia Medvedeva. Ten Brave Women: Anne Hutchinson, Abigal Adams, Dolly Madison, Narcissa Whitman, Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothea Lynde Dix, Mary Lyon, Ida M. Tarbell [and] Eleanor Roosevelt. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, [1953].

Goodsell, Willystine. Pioneers of Women’s Education in the United States: Emma Willard, Catherine Beecher, Mary Lyon. New York, AMS Press, [1970].

Gracey, Annie Ryder. Eminent Missionary Women. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898.

Green, Elizabeth Alden. Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke: Opening the Gates. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1979.

Green, Katharine R. Mary Lyon = Mali Liang. Shanghai, China: Commercial Press, 1935. [In English and Chu ban.]

Hopkins, Henry. The Power of Personality as Illustrated in Mary Lyon. South Hadley, MA: Mount Holyoke College, 1902.

Hosmer, Harriet G. “Mary Lyon.” In Lives of Girls Who Became Famous, edited by Sarah Knowles Bolton, 122-40. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1886.

Jandl, Mary Perrin. Mary Lyon, 1797-1849: A Bibliography. n.p.: n.p., 1975. At the Williston & Miles-Smith Library of Mt. Hollyoke College, South Hadley, MA, USA.

McLean, Sydney R. “Mary Lyon.” In Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Porter Thomas, Louise. Seminary Militant: An Account of the Missionary Movement at Mount Holyoke Seminary and College. 1937.

Porterfield, Amanda. Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

_____. “Mount Holyoke Missionaries and Non-western Women: The Motivations and Consequences of Nineteenth-century American Missionary Philanthropy.” In Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions, edited by Warren Frederick Ilchman, Stanley Nider Katz, and Edward L Queen, 215-35. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.

_____. “Recurring Tendencies in the History of American Christian Women.” Sunstone (22 March-April 1999): 24-33.

Stengel, H. Oxley. The Story of Mary Lyon. New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1922.

Turpin, Andrea Lindsay. “Training Women in the Service of Christ: The Educational Philosophy of Mary Lyon.” M.A. thesis. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2005.


Mary Lyon” page of the Mt. Holyoke College website. Includes link to Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections manuscript register.

Mary Lyon Collection: Correspondence and Writings, 1818-1849.” Five College Archive Digital Access Project. Biographical note and link to finding aid of the Mary Lyon Collection at Mount Holyoke College.

Lyon, Mary. A Missionary Offering, or, Christian Sympathy, Personal Responsibility, and the Present Crisis of Foreign Missions. Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1843.

Portraits


Mary Lyon.” From Louis Albert Banks, The Religious Life of Famous Americans. Boston: American Tract Society, 1904, p. 99.

Mt. Holyoke Seminary, South Hadley, Mass.” From Fidelia Fiske, Recollections of Mary Lyon: With Selections from her Instructions to the Pupils in Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary. Boston: American Tract Society, 1866. Opposite title page.