THE STORY OF MARY LYON
 MARY LYON lived with her widowed mother on a rocky farm
among the Berkshire Hills. She had five sisters and a
brother, and all but one were older than she.
The place was so high up among the hills that it was
known as the Mountain Farm. With much hard labor and
the best of management, such a farm could be made to
produce only a very little—so little that it was
but a slender living, indeed, for six growing girls and
But Mrs. Lyon was courageous and hopeful, and the
children were willing to work. Hence, with so many
little hands doing their part, the wolf was kept from
the door and each day brought a round of humble joys to
the struggling family.
There was no school near the Mountain Farm, and the
children were obliged to walk to Ashfield, two miles
away. It was there that Mary distinguished herself.
There was no better speller in
 the school. She learned all the rules of grammar in a
wonderfully short time. No boy could see through a
problem in arithmetic as quickly as she, and no one was
more accurate with figures. She was soon known as the
pride and the prodigy of the school.
But, whatever may have been her distinction, she won it
honestly by hard work. "It's wrong to waste time," she
said; and so she was always busy, reading, studying,
doing chores on the farm, or helping her mother in the
"She'll be the scholar of the family," said her elder
sisters. But while she was anxious to be a scholar,
she was far more anxious to be helpful to other people.
When she was thirteen there came great changes to the
family. Mrs. Lyon married again and went to live in a
distant town with her husband. The elder girls were
already gone. Only Mary and her brother remained. The
brother took care of the farm and paid Mary a dollar a
week to keep the house in order.
Soon the brother married, but Mary still helped with
the housework. She did spinning and weaving
 for the neighbors and thus earned money for her own
The people of Shelburne Falls wanted some one to teach
a summer school in their village. Mary Lyon offered
herself for the position. She was only sixteen years
old, but she was a woman in looks and behavior.
The school term would last twenty weeks and she was to
receive seventy-five cents a week and board. Fifteen
dollars for five months' work was not much; but the
thrifty Yankees at Shelburne Falls said it was enough
for a girl. Mary put every cent of it aside and saved
it till it would be of the greatest use to her.
When she was twenty, she counted her money and found
that by living very carefully she had enough to pay her
expenses for a few months at a boarding school. To be
a good scholar, to be a good teacher, was the dream of
her life. Everything was bent to make that dream come
The Sanderson Academy at Ashfield was a good school for
girls, as such schools went at that time. Mary Lyon
became enrolled as one of its students. Oh, the labor,
the weariness, the anxiety of the few months she was
able to spend there!
 She knew that her money would not last long. Hence,
she wasted no time. She denied herself of needed rest.
She taxed her strength to its utmost.
Her energy soon made itself felt. She advanced so
rapidly that it was not long until she stood at the
head of all her classes. Everybody said that she was
the finest scholar that was ever enrolled in Sanderson
The next summer she taught another brief term of
school, earned a little more money, and then hastened
back to the academy. Thus for five years she worked
her way in spite of every discouragement, and at the
end of that time she was chosen as assistant in the
academy. Young persons of ability who are willing to
do honest work seldom have to go begging for places.
Mary Lyon was offered more positions than she could
Then she did a thing unheard of. She went to a
professor at Amherst College and induced him to give
her special lessons in chemistry, in order that she
might instruct her own pupils in that branch.
Many good people held up their hands in wonder. "What
business has a girl to learn about such things?" they
 Now, I should explain that in Mary Lyon's time—which
was not so very long ago—there was not a girls'
college in all the world. There was no school in the
United States in which a young lady could be educated
as thoroughly and as well as a young man. There were
many female academies, as they were called, where the
daughters of the rich were taught fashionable
accomplishments,—a little history, a little
poetry, a little French, and perhaps a little Greek and
Latin. But that was all. The bare idea of a girl
studying the sciences or trying to qualify herself for
any useful occupation was thought not only ridiculous,
It was right here that Mary Lyon began to make her work
and her influence felt. "Why may not young women have
the same educational opportunities as their brothers?"
she said. And the rest of her life was given to the
working out of that problem.
She went back to her native town. She rented a small
room and gave notice that she would open a school for
To her surprise she enrolled twenty-five pupils.
Within a week the number was doubled and the
 school was removed to the village hall. This place,
too, was soon filled to overflowing, and many of the
classes were obliged to meet in private houses.
The tuition fees were very small, just enough to pay
running expenses. But Mary Lyon was not teaching for
money. She was teaching to establish a principle and
to benefit humanity.
Her school was continued for six years. It was the
first school of its class in America to which the
daughters of people in humble circumstances could
afford to go.
I need not tell of the struggles that followed. Mary
Lyon had made up her mind to establish a great school
for the education of girls, and she labored steadfastly
to that end. Through all sorts of discouragements she
persevered, feeling sure that she would succeed in the
At length, when she had completed her thirty-seventh
year, she was able to see her dearest wishes realized.
With the aid of sympathizing friends, she had secured
money enough to purchase land and erect buildings for
the beginning of her school. It was called Mount
 Seminary. On the first day there were three times as
many students as could be accommodated. More than two
hundred were turned away because there was no room for
For twelve years Mary Lyon lived to conduct this school
which was to illustrate her idea of the proper
education of young women. Nearly twenty-four hundred
pupils came to her, and were influenced by her
enthusiasm, by her self-denial, and by her untiring
devotion to duty.
The school at Mount Holyoke was the fore-runner of
scores of noble institutions all over our country that
have since been founded in order to give to American
girls the same opportunities for culture that are given
to their brothers.
"There is nothing in the universe that I fear," said
Mary Lyon, "but that I shall not know all my duty, or
that I shall fail to do it."
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