Lyon Hall Namesake: Mary Mason Lyon

Lyon Hall

Mary Mason Lyon

Mary Mason Lyon opened the first women’s college, Mount Holyoke College. Her commitment to affordable education for women is what makes her one of the most influential women in advancement of women’s education.

Mary was born in Buckland, Massachusetts in 1797. To help her family financially, Mary began teaching at 17. She later put herself through school, attending Saunderson Academy, Amherst Academy, the Joseph Emerson School and the Byfield Female Seminary.

As a teacher, Mary saw the need for well equipped schools for higher learning for women. In 1824, she opened a girls’ school in Buckland. Originally just 25 students, the school quickly grew. She went on to work at Adams Academy in New Hampshire and Ipswich Female Academy in Massachusets.

However, Mary was determied to start a school for women where expenses could be moderate. In 1833, she began soliciting funds, walking door-to-door throughout Massachusetts. She raised over $30,000. When it came time to select a location, officials in South Hadley donated $8,000 and became the site of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Mount Holyoke opened in 1837. The school was designed so middle-class girls could afford to attend and students were required to work on-campus to keep the cost of tuition low. The shool was also devoted to serious education for women and met all the academic standards of a male college. Students were required to take 7 courses in math and science and attended lectures by famous scientists.

Mary served as principal at Mount Holyoke for 12 years. She also personally taught chemistry. In 1849, Mary died in her apartment at Mount Holyoke at just 52. In 1893, Mount Holyoke “officially” became a college.