College Acquires 1836 Handwritten Lyon Letter

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 11:45

It’s no secret at Mount Holyoke that Mary Lyon, founder of the College and pioneer in the field of women’s education, was a particularly busy lady. But new evidence shows just how tirelessly she worked to make her dream a reality.

In December, the College acquired a handwritten letter—dated November 19, 1836—from Lyon to the Merriam brothers of Springfield, who only four years prior had founded their now-famous publishing house. The letter was purchased from the E. Wharton & Co. book dealers of Crozet, Virginia, which specializes in rare books and first editions from women writers.

In the letter, Lyon requests a quote for the printing of 200 to 300 copies of a private letter she wishes to send to potential donors. The reason for her request, she writes, is that she simply needs to get the letters to their intended recipients quickly.

“I have thought of having 200 or 300 copies of a private letter which I wish to send to a large number of my friends printed, to save the labor of transcribing,” Lyon writes. “If it is done at all, it must be very soon.”

At the time of writing, the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, as it was then called, was under construction. It would open its doors to students one year later.

On the back of Lyon’s letter, a pencil notation—presumably made by one of the Merriams or their employees—indicates that the cost of printing 200 copies of the letter would be $8.50, or about $200 in current dollars.

The letter Lyon wished to have printed, a copy of which is also in Archives and Special Collections, is a three-page appeal for funds to furnish the new seminary. In that solicitation, Lyon passionately describes the trailblazing mission and noble purpose of the new seminary: to educate women as teachers.

Leslie Fields, head of Archives and Special Collections, said the letter accentuates an aspect of Lyon’s personality that has become a part of her legacy—that she was both uniquely resourceful and tireless in her commitment to educating women.

“She’s actually this amazing, active, intelligent, very, very busy woman who … is running around night and day, trying to raise these funds any way she can to get this school started,” Fields said. “And she’s successful doing that. It’s an amazing story.”

Digital copies of the letter can be viewed in the College’s Digital Collections.