Johnson, Lilian Wyckoff, 1864-1956

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Lillian Wyckoff Johnson was born on June 19, 1864 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her family was active in education. During her childhood Lilian''s parents taught classes to needy children. At age 15, Lillian attended Wellesley and later received her bachelor''s degree from the University of Michigan. She returned to Memphis and joined and joined the faculty of Clara Conway Institute. From 1893 until 1897 she taught at Vassar College and then went to Europe where she studied at the Sorbonne and the University of Leipzig. Johnson received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in history from Cornell University and was the first woman in the United States to receive a doctorate from Cornell. Johnson taught history at the University of Tennessee during that time and led a campaign which resulted in the founding of Western State Teachers College for Women at Memphis. President Johnson was characterized as one of the south''s greatest female pioneers in the educational field. She was the third president of Western College for Women and served from 1904 until 1906. She was inaugurated June 7, 1904 and is credited with leading the celebration of the Golden Jubilee Fund. As the college entered upon it second half-century, in the fall of 1905 with the ever present problems of faculty salaries, changing curriculum and the need for new buildings, a Living Endowment Fund was created. This fund was to increase the amount already received for the Golden Jubilee. The goal was set at $250,000, in hopes for a promised Carnegie gift. Johnson was supported by a strong Board of Trustees and an able faculty. She worked continously to present the cause of Western College. Johnson was in demand as a public speaker and missed no opportunity to address audiences on behalf of the college. She was also credited with originating Senior Day, College Day. In 1906, due to poor health Dr. Johnson became ill and was forced to resign. After her departure from Western she returned to Europe to study agricultural practices. Returning to the United States, Johnson was appointed a collaborator with the United States Bureau of Rural Organization and taught at Central High School in Memphis. When the movement began to locate a normal school in Memphis, she was appointed by the Nineteenth Century Club and worked on raising funding for the purchase of land. She traveled and studied at the International Institute of Agriculture, and also studied with Maria Montessori, the noted child educator. In 1913, Johnson initiated an American commission to study European agricultural cooperatives. She lectured for the Department of Agriculture and settled at Summerfield near Monteagle in Grundy County, Tennessee in 1915. While there she assisted in establishing a high school and county health unit. In 1932, Johnson gifted her Summerfield home for the establishment of the Highlander Folk School where courses were taught to industrial an agricultural workers. She retired to Bradenton, Florida and while there worked for the Women''s Christian Temperance Movement serving as state secretary and organized the Bradenton Community Welfare Council. She died in Bradenton on September 22, 1956.

From the description of Johnson, Lilian Wyckoff, 1864-1956 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10677604

Lilian Wyckoff Johnson (1864-1956) was one of the American South's pioneer women educators. She was born in Memphis, Tennessee on June 16, 1864 and died in Bradenton, Florida. Her parents were John Cumming Johnson (1828-1892) and Mary Anne Elizabeth "Bettie" ("Lizzie") Fisher Johnson (1834-1883).

Educated at Wellesley College, the State Normal School at Cortland, New York, the University of Michigan, the Sorbonne, and the University of Leipzig, she received the doctor of philosophy degree at Cornell University in 1902; her dissertation was entitled "Calvin and Religious Tolerance."

In 1903 she helped to organize the Southern Association of College Women at the University of Tennessee. After teaching history at Vassar College from 1893-1897, she served as principal and superintendent of the Hope Night School in Memphis, a school founded by her father. Hope Night School was the first night school in the South.

From 1904-1907, she was the president of the Western College for Women at Oxford, Ohio. Next she turned her efforts to helping establish a women's college in Memphis. Her efforts resulted in the founding of the West Tennessee Normal School, which later became Memphis State College, in 1912. The founding of this school was the fulfillment of her father's dying wish.

She then traveled in Europe with the American Commission for the Study of Agricultural Cooperation and helped to compile a report of the group's findings. Consequently, she became a collaborator in the Bureau of Rural Organization in the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 1916 she built a home on the Cumberland Plateau at Summerfield near Monteagle, Grundy County, Tennessee, as a center for social and cooperative work. This center was called the KinCo (Kindred Company and Kinder Company combined). For seven years while living at Summerfield, she was a member of the Summerfield Board of Education, serving as chairman in 1927 and 1928. While at Summerfield, she helped to establish the first credit union for farmers in Tennessee. She also worked to demonstrate that it was feasible to grow food in Grundy County instead of importing it. In 1932 she turned her mountain top home at Summerfield over to Myles Horton to be used as the interracial Highlander Folk School.

From 1937-1939, she helped to rehabilitate Ravenscroft, a deserted mining community in White County, Tennessee. With her assistance, the village became a flourishing farming community with a successful cooperative store.

The last nine years of her life were spent in Bradenton, Florida, volunteering in civic, church, and social welfare projects. She participated in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Omega Sigma Sorority, the Democratic Women's Club, and the First Presbyterian Church in Bradenton. Two years before her death, she helped to establish the Negro Youth Center in Bradenton.

Dr. Johnson took part in numerous other organizations. She belonged to the Congregational Church of Memphis and was an organizer of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in Tennessee in 1891. She was a member of the American Association of University Women, the Women's and Young Women's Christian Association, and the American Historical Association.

Dr. Johnson served as chairman of the Rural Organization Department of the Tennessee Federation of Women's Clubs and as vice-chairman of the Country Life Department of the forerunner of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. She also served as vice-president general of the Southern Commercial Congress and the first president of the Southern Association of College Women.

She also belonged to the League of Women Voters and Sorosis, and was a founder of Omega Sigma Sorority. She served as a member of the board of directors of the Highlander Folk School and was a member of the American Association of the United Nations. She was an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa and was named an elector of the Hall of Fame of New York University in 1905 - one of the first six women to be so honored.

From the guide to the Lilian Wyckoff Johnson Papers, 1879-1968, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Horton, Myles, 1905-1990. Papers, 1851-1990. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Walter Hines Page letters from various correspondents, American period Houghton Library
creatorOf Records of the Farm Credit Administration. 1913 - 1989. Records of Dr. Lilian W. Johnson National Archives at College Park
creatorOf Lilian Wyckoff Johnson Papers, 1879-1968 Western Reserve Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Horton, Myles, 1905-1990. person
associatedWith Page, Walter Hines, 1855-1918 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Johnson, Lilian Wyckoff, 1864-1956
Women college administrators
Women college teachers
Women educators
Women in education
Women school administrators


Birth 1864

Death 1956




Ark ID: w6w39d8w

SNAC ID: 18747636