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Mary Lyon collection

 Collection — Folder: Register and guides, Summaries of correspondence, Typed transcripts of selected letters
Identifier: MS 0500
Birthplace of Mary Lyon
Birthplace of Mary Lyon

Scope and Contents

The Mary Lyon Collection consists of letters by and to educator Mary Lyon, her published and unpublished writings, biographical information about her and memorabilia associated with her, books that were in her personal library, materials about the Lyon family and the Massachusetts towns closely associated with her early life, and portraits and other likenesses of her. The collection primarily documents Lyon's activities as a pioneering educator of women and her work as the founder and first principal of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Correspondence (1818-1849, n.d.) contains letters by and to relatives, friends, and colleagues concerning her work, particularly at Mount Holyoke, and aspects of her personal life. Correspondents include educators Zilpah Grant Banister and Eunice C. Cowles, L.T. Guilford, and other Mount Holyoke graduates, Lyon's niece, Abigail Moore Burgess, missionary Justin Perkins, and Laban and Elizabeth Wheaton, founders of Wheaton Female Seminary. Writings (circa 1827-1849, n.d.) include pamphlets that Lyon wrote to publicize Mount Holyoke, the Missionary Offering (1843) which reflects her support of missionary work, and many unpublished documents such as her student compositions, her notes for lectures, and her journal describing travels in Pennsylvania, New York State, and Michigan in 1833. Notes on Lyon's Remarks (circa 1837-1849) were compiled by Mount Holyoke students and teachers and reflect her views about religion, the purpose of education, character, and other subjects. Biographical Material and Memorabilia (circa 1778-) consists of articles, newspaper clippings, and papers about Lyon's life, jewelry, textiles, and other items that belonged to her and others, and items once used to furnish the Mary Lyon Room at Mount Holyoke. These materials include information about the many posthumous honors conferred upon her. Lyon's Library (1809-1847) consists of books that she owned and includes writings by Catharine Esther Beecher, Amos Eaton, Edward Hitchcock, and John Milton. Lyon Family materials (circa 1836-) chiefly consist of published and unpublished genealogies about various branches of the family both in the United States and Europe. There is also a photograph album that appears to contain portraits of Lyon's brother, Aaron E. Lyon, and his relatives. Places Associated with Lyon (circa 1849-) consists of publications, notes, postcards, and photographs concerning Ashfield, Buckland, and Byfield, Massachusetts. Portraits and Other Likenesses (1832-) contains prints of a daguerreotype, a ferrotype, and paintings of Lyon taken or completed during her lifetime as well as later paintings and drawings of her. Lyon's correspondence and writings were microfilmed in 1987 and the collection includes four sets of the film and related user guides. Oversize (Folio) Material (circa 1827-) in the collection is boxed separately.

Material from this collection is available in an online digital format.


  • ca. 1778-

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Use of the collection is governed by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S.C.)

Biographical Note

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.


25.95 Linear Feet (13 full Hollinger, 2 half Hollinger, 3 record storage, and 5 specialty boxes; 92 volumes; 2 folders)

Language of Materials



Lyon, Mary, 1797-1849; Educator and founder of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College). Contains correspondence, published and unpublished writings, notes on Lyon's remarks, biographical material and memorabilia, books that were in Lyon's library, material relating to the Lyon family and to Ashfield, Buckland, and Byfield, Massachusetts, portraits and likeness of Lyon, and microfilm of her correspondence and writings. The collection documents aspects of her personal life, including her studies at Byfield Seminary and Sanderson Academy, as well as her work at Ipswich Female Seminary and particularly Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Processing Information

Processed by Elaine D. Trehub, 1987 and Patricia J. Albright, 2007.

Mary Lyon Collection, ca. 1778-
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Elaine D. Trehub and Patricia J. Albright.
© 2007
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA