The Legacy of Mary Lyon

"Go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things."

The success of Mount Holyoke opened the doors of higher education for women. Mary Lyon proved that women were as intellectually capable as men, and that an institution for women offering a college curriculum could survive financially. Her impact on education was felt across the United States and in distant corners of the world. Graduates of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary carried Mary Lyon's ideals and teaching methods into schools which they founded or taught at, in places such as Albert Lea, Minnesota and Marion, Alabama; Bitlis, Turkey and Honolulu, Hawaii; Umzumbe, South Africa and the territory of the Cherokee Nation; Kobe, Japan and Clinton, New York. One founded the first public school in Oklahoma; classes were held in a tent. Through the work of Mount Holyoke's alumnae teachers, the quality of elementary and high school education improved nationwide; the presence of well-educated female teachers in the classroom offered role models for bright and aspiring girls and young women.

Mount Holyoke provided the inspiration, the model, and often the leadership, for the many women's colleges that followed. A few examples: Wellesley College was founded by a Mount Holyoke trustee, Henry Durant, and its first president was an 1853 Mount Holyoke alumna, Ada Howard. Another trustee, John Greene, was instrumental in founding Smith College. Susan Tolman Mills, class of 1845, and her husband founded Mills College in California.

Mount Holyoke College gateway

With the opening of Mount Holyoke's doors in 1837, a new era in women's education began.

Mary Lyon urged early graduates to "Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do." More than 180 years later, graduates heed her words still.

Alumnae Honored on U.S. Postage Stamps

Following Mary Lyon's example of making a difference in the world, four Mount Holyoke alumnae, along with Lyon, have been honored on U.S. postage stamps.

View all five stamps...

Mary Lyon Doll

Mary Lyon doll.
Lyon was so famous that dolls and books were created in her honor.

When they gathered in the Seminary Building in 1837, neither Mary Lyon nor her students nor teachers could have envisioned that nearly two centuries later Mount Holyoke would enroll 2,200 students from 47 states and 57 countries, boast a campus of more than 700 acres and offer 50 different majors. The idea that more women than men are now enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities would have seemed improbable. But Mary Lyon surely would not be surprised that Mount Holyoke graduates have risen to every challenge and become leaders in their professions and communities. Today, Mount Holyoke College remains at the forefront of higher education for women.