1830 - 1910

Mary Lyon

Mary Lyon was a pioneer in American education who acted as a consultant to the Wheaton family at the founding of the Seminary and established the school’s curriculum.

Mary Lyon, at age 38 an already well-known and respected teacher who had been influenced by Catherine Beecher and the Rev. Joseph Emerson, was teaching at Ipswich Seminary and was planning to open her own school for young women. She agreed to help the Wheatons develop Wheaton Female Seminary’s first curriculum and rules, hire the first teachers and do some teaching when she was in town. She also brought Wheaton its first principal, Eunice Caldwell and steadfastly maintained an appeal to establish a widely based, permanent endowment so that the institution would not have to rely on high tuition for its programs.

While at Wheaton, Mary Lyon wrote numerous letters and circulars, took time for quiet study and thought and made short trips around New England to raise funds and an endowment for what would later become Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, MA. She began by concentrating on the alumnae of Ipswich Seminary and on the women in that town. Walking door to door, Miss Lyon succeeded in collecting $1000 from the ladies of Ipswich. She then used the example of their patronage to raise funds in other communities. While she relied on women’s organizations like sewing circles and evangelical associations, Lyon also encouraged husbands to give a portion of their estates to be invested in the education of their daughters.

In 1837, Mary Lyon took Wheaton’s first principal, Eunice Caldwell, and eight Wheaton students with her to open Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Mary Lyon Hall was named for Mary Lyon in 1910.