Opening Day--November 8, 1837

Opening Day

"This will be an era in female education. The work will not stop with this institution."

In the fall of 1837, the schoolteacher from Buckland at last saw her dream fulfilled when the first 80 students arrived at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Many had traveled two or three days by stagecoach and carriage; all had passed difficult oral entrance examinations in English grammar, math, U.S. history, and geography. Following Mary Lyon's instructions, they each brought with them a Bible, an atlas, a dictionary, and two spoons.


The entering students--young women like Sarah Brigham, Abigail Moore, Persis Woods, and Hannah Bailey--felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to study at Mary Lyon's new institution. At the time, there were 120 colleges for men in the United States, but none for women. Harvard College, founded just 16 years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, was already 201 years old; the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, in its 143rd year. With the opening of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, college-aged women could claim their own institution of higher education. One year later, places at Mount Holyoke were in such demand nearly 200 women applied for entrance; 90 were accepted.


Key to the original Seminary building, which opened its doors in 1837.

What was happening in U.S. history in the 1830s?

  • The population of the U.S. is 12.8 million, and mostly rural.
  • Andrew Jackson is re-elected U.S. president, and is succeeded by the eighth president, Martin Van Buren.
  • Abraham Lincoln enters politics as a state legislator in Illinois.
  • Frontiersman Davy Crockett is killed in the Battle of the Alamo.
  • Texas wins independence from Mexico, and the Republic of Texas is declared.
  • Seminole wars are fought in Florida.
  • Arkansas and Michigan become the 25th and 26th states.
  • "Underground railway" is organized by U.S. abolitionists to help slaves escape.
  • An economic depression causes the price of cotton, the South's leading crop, to fall.
  • Inventor Cyrus McCormick patents his reaping machine.
  • First horse-drawn buses and trolleys appear in New York City.
  • Inventor Samuel Morse exhibits his electric telegraph.

When did Mount Holyoke start using "College" in its name?

Mount Holyoke originally offered a three-year course of study. In 1861, it became a four-year institution. Although Mount Holyoke received a college charter from the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1888, it did not drop the name "Seminary" until 1893.