Susan L. Tolman Mills

Susan L. Tolman Mills

Susan Tolman Mills, educated in the all-female world of East Coast Mount Holyoke, went on to re-create that environment for women on the West Coast when she and her husband founded Mills College. It was the first U.S. college for women west of the Rocky Mountains.

After her student days were done, Susan Tolman stayed on at Mount Holyoke to teach science and theology until she married missionary Cyrus Mills in 1848. They sailed for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where Mills supervised day schools, taught domestic skills classes to local girls, and helped her husband, the principal of Batticotta College.

In 1860, the couple moved to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), where Mills taught at Oahu College, a school for the children of missionaries. There, she introduced calisthenics for girls and emphasized the sciences in her curriculum—an echo of Mount Holyoke’s strength in that academic area.

Her husband’s ill health prompted a move to California in 1864. The next year, they bought the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia, California. Soon, they moved the institution to a new campus in Oakland, where Cyrus and Susan Mills led the institution as president and principal, respectively.  The seminary was chartered as Mills College—which is still a college for women—in 1885. After her husband’s death, Susan Mills became the college’s president, serving until she retired at age 84. 

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Mount Holyoke College

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