Mary Lyon, a pioneering educator of women, founded Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837. An admirer of the Amherst College curriculum, Lyon developed a rigorous course of study that included the sciences—a subject not commonly emphasized at women’s schools. Entering the Seminary a decade after its founding, Dickinson remarked that Mary Lyon, was “raising her standard of scholarship a good deal. . .& on account of that she makes the examinations more severe than usual.” Lyon also worked tirelessly to shape the students’ religious lives with the goal that each would publicly declare her Calvinist faith–a step Dickinson never took. Like many of the students, Dickinson stayed for only one year though the full course of study was three years. Though the poet’s stay was short, her time at the Seminary–and its formidable leader, reinforced the belief that women were entitled to a life of the mind.
Emily Dickinson to Abiah Root (L18), November 6, 1847, in The Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), 1:54.
Daguerreotype, 1845. Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives & Special Collections