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Mount Holyhoke's site devoted to the history of Mary Lyon

This site has links and history of women in education at all levels.



Mary Lyon's Fight for Women's Education

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All right guys, it is time for Teddy to tweak your fledgling identities. All of you boys reading this, pretend for just a moment that you are actually girls.

Are all the boys pretending?

OK, now everybody reading this should be in girl mode. Now, I want all the "girls" reading this to pretend that they are being magically projected back into time through the magic of the Internet. I am taking you back almost two hundred years to the beginning of 19th century America.

Being a girl in the 1800s was not easy. You were regarded as subservient, or below, men. Girls were not allowed to vote, wear pants, earn equal pay, own property after marriage, or even learn beyond a certain level. Only if their parents were willing, were girls allowed to attend elementary school. Beyond simple schooling however, only a few high schools, then called seminaries, actually taught girls in classrooms. At the beginning of the 1800s, there were no colleges where women could study. Could you imagine what it would be like if no matter how well you performed in school, there was no way you could attend college because of your gender? Some 19th century women decided they could not stand the sexism of academia, and they decided to form their own colleges, specifically for women.

A pioneer in women's higher education
In 1797, Mary Lyon was born into a farming family in New England. Her father died when she was only five leaving her mother to raise seven children and tend to the farm. Mary had to learn quickly on the farm, and she also performed exceedingly well in class. She was at the top of her Latin class, and amazed everyone with her ability to mix studies and farm work on only four hours sleep a night! At age thirteen, Mary was taken out of school and made to work on the farm. She still loved learning and decided to became a teacher to help quench her thirst for knowledge. By the time Mary was 37 years old, she vowed that she would see women studying at a college level in her own lifetime.


"Teddy digs girls"

She set out in the middle of a great economic depression to raise tons of money and gather support for the first women's college in America. Some people thought she was ridiculous. Why raise all this money and then "waste" it on women? Despite the depression, Mary endured long years of accumulating funds, hiring teachers, and was able to begin construction of school houses amidst constant contempt. After three years of struggling, Mount Holyoke opened for 80 students. Though this was the first college for women, men had been enjoying this privilege for a while. At that time, there were 120 men's colleges in the United States and the oldest, Harvard, was over 200 year's old.

See how fun it was to be in college?
What began as an entryway for women into higher education, soon blossomed into an exciting source which produced leaders, scientists, and thinkers that greatly benefited America. The lessons taught at Mount Holyoke were equal to those taught in all male schools. The tuition at Holyoke, however, was only $60 a year, Mary wanted to make sure that even poor young women had access to higher learning.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits Holyoke
While going to college was a better opportunity for women than staying on the farms, it was not an easy time. Every day started at 5 am. The students had to do all of the chores for the college-that was the reason tuition was so cheap. They cooked, cleaned, and then learned in the classroom.

Mount Holyoke broke the barrier that had prevented women from studying in Universities, and by the end of the century, many more women's colleges had popped up. Schools like Smith, Vassar, and Radcliff were founded to take on the growing number of women students. Other schools incorporated Mount Holyoke's progressive views into their own systems. Oberlin College was an example this, and became the first college to give a diploma to a woman, and was the first to graduate a black man. Over the years, these schools produced stupendous amounts of active members of society. Mount Holyoke alone, boasts the first female member of a president's cabinet, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the producer of Sesame Street.

She helped bring about social security during the Great Depression.
Today, we have women astronauts, judges, senators, truck drivers and chess masters. There are even female boxers. Where will we go from here? Women still only earn between 70-80% of what men are paid for the same jobs. Countries like India, the Philippines, and Brazil have all had female presidents, yet the United States has still not had its first female vice-president.

A girl studies at Mt. Holyoke today.
How about it girls (and boys)? How long is it going to take for the president of the United States to wear long, flowing dresses to work? How much longer will we tolerate pay discrimination on the basis of gender? These and other issues of gender inequality are very important, if you want to learn more about the feminist movement, check out the site www.now.org. While you are web-surfing, do not forget to pay respects to the lady who pioneered women's education. Visit Mary Lyon on the web at www.mtholyoke.edu and let her know how much you appreciate her life's work.


Please email me at: teddy@ustrek.org


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