1872 - 1893

Reverend Alfred Emerson

The Reverend Alfred Emerson served as trustee for Wheaton Female Seminary from 1872 to 1893. He and his wife were among Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s closest friends and advisors.

Emerson supervised major construction projects, overseeing the 1878 additions to Mary Lyon Hall. After the national Panic of 1873 and Long Depression lasting until 1879 (or, some economists believe, until 1896), Emerson agreed to become the Seminary treasurer and safeguarded Seminary finances through the recessions of 1882-85, 1887-88, and 1890-91.

Born in 1812 in Beverly, MA, Emerson graduated from Yale University in 1834, received his master’s degree from Andover Theological Seminary and tutored at Yale from 1837 to 1840. He served as professor of mathematics and physics at Western Reserve College, a strongly abolitionist institution in Hudson, OH, from 1853 to 1856. Emerson and his family then returned East, and he served as pastor of the Congregational church in South Berwick, ME, from February 15, 1857, to May 12, 1858, when he was called to the Calvinistic Congregational Church in Fitchburg, MA.

The Reverend Alfred’s wife, Martha Vose Emerson, was principal from 1840 to 1842. One of the Emersons’ daughters, Frances Vose Emerson 1872 taught literature and history at Wheaton from 1881 to 1886 and was a trustee from 1922 to 1941. Another Emerson daughter, Annie Austin Emerson 1871, taught mathematics and English branches at Wheaton in 1873 and 1875-76.

Alfred Emerson’s grandfather, the Reverend Joseph Emerson, was a clergyman and champion of women’s education who founded Byfield Female Seminary in Newbury, MA, where Mary Lyon attended school. He was an early advocate of expanding women’s academic education beyond the traditional ornamental and domestic arts. Byfield Female Seminary offered extensive studies in literature, history and other academic subjects previously reserved for men. Byfield’s ethos of rigorous academic education infused with Christian commitment guided Mary Lyon’s recommendations to the Wheaton family and influenced her later founding of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

The Reverend Alfred Emerson died in Dorchester, MA, in 1896 or 1897. Emerson Dining Hall was dedicated to the Emerson family in 1908.