Lyon, Mary, 1797-1849

Alternative names
Birth 1797-02-28
Death 1849-03-05

Biographical notes:


From the description of Letter of Mary Lyon, 1839. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79451324

Mary Lyon, educator and founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College), was born on February 28, 1797, in Buckland, Massachusetts. Her parents were Aaron Lyon, a farmer, and Jemima Shepard Lyon. After her father's death in 1802 and her mother's remarriage 1810, Lyon remained on the family farm as a housekeeper for her brother. She started teaching in 1814 and continued her own education by attending Sanderson Academy in Ashfield, Massachusetts, Amherst (Massachusetts) Academy, and Byfield (Massachusetts) Seminary. She opened the Buckland (Massachusetts) Female School in 1824 and taught the summer term classes at Adams Female Academy in Derry (now East Derry), New Hampshire with Zilpah Grant. In 1828, she began teaching full time at Ipswich (Massachusetts) Female Seminary. During this period, she also attended lectures at Amherst College and spent a few weeks studying at what is now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 1832, she began developing plans for a new school for adult women that would own its own property and not be a for-profit venture. She spent the summer of 1833 traveling through Pennsylvania and New York State to Detroit, Michigan purchasing scientific equipment for Ipswich Seminary and visiting schools and colleges. She resigned from the Ipswich school in 1834, returning later to serve as acting principal during Grant's temporary absence, and assisted with the planning of Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts. With the help of male advisers she began raising funds for a school that was chartered on February 11, 1836 as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Mount Holyoke opened on November 8, 1837 and Lyon served as principal for almost twelve years. She also taught chemistry classes and organized the domestic work system by which students and teachers took care of cooking and housekeeping chores in order to avoid the expense of hiring paid staff. Lyon died of erysipelas, an acute streptococcus disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, on March 5, 1849 and is buried on the Mount Holyoke grounds.

From the guide to the Mary Lyon Collection MS 0500., ca. 1778-, (Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections)


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Ark ID:


  • Women educators--United States
  • Women teachers--United States
  • Missionaries--United States
  • Women--Massachusetts--Religious life
  • Women--Education (Higher)--United States--History


  • Educators


  • Byfield, Mass. (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • Pennsylvania (as recorded)
  • Ashfield, Mass. (as recorded)
  • Detroit (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Buckland, Mass. (as recorded)
  • Erie Canal (N.Y.) (as recorded)