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THE LIFE OF MARY LYON.
made more to feast the soul than to feed the body."* - That it was not a barren spot, the same writer shows in her pictures of the home surrounded "by roses, pinks, and peonies that keep time with Old Hundred"; and of the garden where nothing ever died; its richly laden fruit trees; the sugar maples shading the musical brook, wild strawberries growing in richness and profusion; garden, grove, and field, yielding such generous supplies that there was always enough and to spare, even when young life most abounded in that mountain home.
Young and old have long since departed, and even the home is gone. Ferns are growing from the cellar wall. Red roses hide in the grass, and a few venerable fruit trees linger. But when these, too, are gone, the little brook will still sing on at the foot of the sentinel hills.
This deserted site in Buckland, four miles from the village by the
road, but only a mile and a half by footpath over the hill, is the place
where Mary Lyon was born, February 28, 1797. The trustees of Mount Holyoke
Seminary have marked the spot by a bronze tablet in-scribed with her name,
and inserted in the rocky ledge. Mary was the sixth of eight children given
to Aaron and Jemima(Shepard) Lyon. Her father, who died before she was
seven years of age, was a man greatly beloved by all, and often sent for
to pray with the sick and dying. Her mother's ancestry goes back in one
line to Rev. Henry Smith, who came from England as early as 1636, and in
another to Lieut. Samuel Smith, who sailed for New England in the Elizabeth,
of Ipswich, in 1634. From Charlestown and Watertown, Massa-chusetts, they
went to Wethersfield, Connecticut, where one was minister till his death
in 1648, and the other for twenty years filled important offices in church
and state. Differences arose, due in part to lax views re-specting baptism
and church membership, and all but
six members of the church, "for the sake of peace and harmony,"
voted to remove from Wethersfield. In 1659 or 1660, about thirty left in
a body with Rev. John Russell, their minister, and joined by a minority
from the church in Hartford, holding similar views, were the first settlers
of Hadley, then called Norwottuck. Among these were Lieut. Smith, his son
Chileab, and some of the children of Rev. Henry Smith; Preserved, the grandson
of the minister, married -Mary, the grand-daughter of the lieutenant, thus
uniting the two families. Their son Chileab, bearing the name of his maternal
grandfather, left before 1731, to become one of the first settlers of South
Hadley. Chileab's Hill, a mile north of the village., still bears his name.
An old well, near the present residence of Dennison Smith- belonged to
the homestead where eleven of his twelve children were born. Jemima, the
fifth, was the grandmother of Mary Lyon. Chileab Smith was a man of sterling
qual-ities. The questions on which the churches of Hart-ford and Wethersfield
were divided in the preceding century , led to much discussion in the region
of Hadley. In this controversy Jonathan Edwards earnestly opposed the loose
theory of church membership, and when leaving Northampton, said that no
church and only one minister in Hampshire county was fully of his mind.
Hampshire then comprised also the present counties of Hampden and Franklin.
It is stated that the great-grandfather of Mary Lyon withdrew from the
church in South Hadley, having had some difficulty with it "because he
agreed with Mr. Edwards." In 1751 with two other families he began the
settlement of Huntstown, now Ashfield. A pioneer like his fathers, he was
like them foremost also in Christian work. In this place he began religious
meetings at once and out of them grew a Baptist church. Its first pastor
was his son Ebenezer, who preached from the age of nineteen to eighty-nine.
During forty-five of these years be ministered at Ashfield, and was succeeded
by his brother Enos, who was pastor forty years. Besides these two
sons, ten ministers, and five daughters whose husbands were ministers, were counted in 1851 among his descend-ants. At the age of eighty he was himself ordained to the ministry. He lived to be ninety-two. His wife died at eighty-seven. The grandfather, whose name he bore, reached the age of ninety-five, his grand-mother eighty-eight, his son of the same name one hundred years and seven months. Two other sons lived to be more than ninety years of age. His daughter Jemima on one occasion wrote that it had been seventy years since she "'listed a soldier for Jesus." Her hus-band was Deacon Isaac Shepard, of Ashfield, a man of eminent piety like his father before him. Their daugh-ter Jemima Shepard became the wife of Aaron Lyon, September 2, 1784.
From such a line of long-lived ancestors,-from self-reliant, hard-working
parents, in Christian love tenderly devoted to each other and to their
children,-from her mother, a cheerful, capable woman, noted for her faith
and prayers, and an angel of goodness among her neighbors,-Mary Lyon inherited
a sound mind in a sound body, a buoyant temperament, a great, warm, trusting
heart, with intense energy of body, mind, and soul. Nurtured in a home
of rural simplicity and Christian sincerity, unfettered by custom and fashion,
inhaling strength with the free mountain air, and gathering stores of wisdom
from her mother's Bible, this blue-eyed girl, with fair skin, rosy cheeks,
broad, high fore-head, and masses of curling auburn hair, was laying up
invaluable resources for after years. Skilled in all the household arts
of that day, doing at fifteen a hired girl's work for a hired girl's wages
while keeping house for her unmarried brother, and giving to the work head
and heart as well as hands, she was educating herself for more important
labors. Spinning now flax, now wool; weaving, netting, and embroidery gave
variety to her work and increased her power of self-help. With two blue-and-white
coverlets spun, dyed, and woven by her own hands, she afterward
paid for a winter's board while in Ashfield Academy; and the blue fulled-cloth habit she wore in Ipswich and Derry was the product of her own spinning wheel and loom.
In a home where children were thrown on their own resources, and in a community where school privileges were few and genius was lightly valued, her eager in-tellect was safe from undue stimulus, and physical vigor was allowed free development. Exuberant spirits, a keen sense of the ludicrous, and a power of humorous description combined with overflowing kind-ness, made her society attractive. And while she greatly outstripped her schoolmates in their studies, they regarded her with admiration rather than envy. " Even then," says one of them, "she was so full of benevolence that we were all drawn to her."
Her school advantages were limited. When she was seven years old the district school which had been near her home was removed to a distance. Her occasional attendance afterward was doubtless supplemented by home studies. Sometimes she lived with families in Buckland or relatives in Ashfield where she could work for her board and be nearer school. At the age of twenty she first went to Sanderson Academy in Ashfield. Two quarters there in 1817 and one at Amherst Acad-emy in 1818 alternated with terms of teaching near her home. In 1820 she was again in Sanderson Acad-emy, of which she afterward said,, " Here I was principally educated, here my mental energies were first awakened, and to this school I feel in no small degree indebted." The indebtedness perhaps consisted in part in receiving free tuition after the first term, although it has been said that " she heard recitations enough to more-than balance her tuition."
Here, contrary to her principles in after life, she gave herself
only four hours of sleep in twenty-four, count-ing study time too precious
to be taken for sleep. Catalogues, each a single broad-sheet, found carefully
preserved among her papers, suggest how she cherished the memory of those
While attending district school, in addition to the. reading, writing, spelling, and needlework with which girls were usually expected to be satisfied, she presented the extraordinary request to be allowed to study gram-mar. The principles of the English grammar were so well stored in memory and that within four days, that when a Latin grammar was afterward given her in San-derson Academy to keep her within reciting distance of her classes in other studies, she was but three days in mastering the book. Schoolmates forgot to study that afternoon, listening to the unfailing promptness of that long recitation, which is said to have lasted till after dark. Under the same teacher, Elijah H. Burritt, she calculated eclipses and made an almanac.
Between terms she was at one time in the family of Rev. Edward Hitchcock,
then pastor in Conway, with whom she studied natural science, taking also
lessons in drawing and painting from Mrs. Hitchcock. Her fondness for natural
science was further gratified in Amherst Academy, where she specially delighted
in chemistry, as she did later in lectures by Prof. Eaton on chemistry
and natural philosophy, in Amherst and in Troy, New York. In these sciences
she became an enthusiastic teacher, performing her own experiments. The
same eager thirst for knowledge which these four or five terms of instruction
bad only increased, led her in 1821 to go to Byfield, a distance of three
days' journey eastward, -for it was six years before the sur-vey of the
pioneer railway in Massachusetts. At first her plan was opposed. She was
twenty-four years old; she had learning enough to teach; why should she
go to Byfield? But her mother said, " Go." During her two termis there
under the influence of Rev. Joseph Emerson, her views of education underwent
a radical change. She had been seeking knowledge for the joy of acquiring
it. At Byfield she learned to desire it as a means of usefulness. She had
been cultivating the in-tellect mainly, but was now led to see that the
heart also should receive due attention.
Years afterwards Mr. Emerson said that for mental power he considered Mary Lyon superior to any other pupil he had ever had in his seminary. With the con-secration of this power, not only was the development of mind and heart more symmetrical, but she also illustrated a later saying of her own, "The same talent rises higher with consecration." In reviewing her life near its close she said that she owed more to Mr. Emerson than to any other instructor.
Her career as a teacher began when she was seven-teen. From a list
in her hand-writing of terms taught and attended, it appears that in the
seven years before going to Byfield she had taught eleven terms in district
schools in or near Buckland, varied with an occasional family or select
school. Many times during her first term-of twenty weeks-she resolved if
once safely through, never to attempt the work again. Others said, "She
will never equal her sister Electa as a teacher." But each term so improved
upon the preced-ing that her services were soon in eager request. She was
the first to introduce into Buckland the study of geography with maps.
After her return from Byfield, inspired with new motives and new views
of education, she held for three years the place of assistant princi-pal
in the academy in Ashfield, a position which no woman had occupied before.
Results fully justified the innovation. The next ten years she was associated
with Miss Grant in Derry, New Hampshire, and Ipswich, Massachusetts, returning
six winters for a school of her own in Ashfield or Buckland. In 1834 she
left the school-room to devote herself to the enterprise for which twenty
years of teaching, and indeed all her life, had been pre-paring her. Three
years she toiled upon the problem given her to solve, and began to test
its solution when she opened Mount Holyoke Seminary, November 8, 1837.
And if "the honor of discovery belongs to him who first puts the novel
idea into such working form as to make it of practical value," that honor
surely belonged to Mary Lyon. In the words of President Hitchcock,
"Until she made the effort it was not thought that founding schools for women was of consequence enough to be counted a benevolent enterprise, but she so convinced the church of its importance as to draw forth its pecuniary offerings in a greater degree than selfish motives had ever accomplished."
In religious character, Mary Lyon was by birthright a woman of faith, and her life has been called an added verse to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Born of believing parents, themselves rich in a heritage of faith, she seems to have been free alike from doubt and idle speculation. "Like the high-born in all realms," as another has well said, " in the realms of faith she began. life at a point where the few end, and which the many fail to reach."
"The winter of her birth," writes Miss Fiske, "was one of special religious interest in the community. As the mother folds her precious child in her arms, she says, 'I hear the birds of Paradise on the boughs of free grace singing redeeming love. My soul can join in the blessed song, and I rejoice to see the work of the Lord prosper in the hands of the blessed Redeemer.' So she who was to labor so faithfully in revivals was, as it were, prayed into the work by those believing parents. Of the children given to Aaron and Jemima Lyon, one had become the 'family treasure in heaven.' Little Ezra had been in the Saviour's arms six months when Mary was welcomed to the mountain home, as she expressed it, 'to feel in that family circle the sweetly chastening influence of a babe in heaven.' She ever carried this with her, as well as the influence of another scene, where there were sorrowing hearts and flowing tears, because death had come to the same home to take away the affectionate husband and the kindest of fathers."*
the family altar. The power of prayer was very early impressed upon her. When her mother would sink to rest exhausted, after long tarrying in her closet, her older sister would whisper, "I think there is going to be an awakening." Her confidence in the efficacy of her mother's prayers appears in the constant appeals for them found in her home letters. Holyoke pupils of 1840 will never forget her emotion when she told them, "I have no longer a mother to pray for me and my dear pupils." Her estimate of her mother's influence is told in the words, " I am more indebted to my mother than to all others except my Maker."
At the age of ten, she received distinct impressions that were never lost; but the first remembered indications of renewing grace were of later date. Miss Fiske says in her "Recollections":-
"It was a beautiful Sabbath afternoon of May, 1816, in which Mary
Lyon first said, with full heart, 'Abba, Father'; 'Jesus my Saviour.' Her
home was in the humble cottage at the foot of the hill. She had that day,
as was her wont, mingled with the worshipers in the little Baptist church
at the Three Corners. Good old Elder Smith talked both morning and afternoon
of the character and government of God. At the close of the last service,
the silver-haired man rose to bless his flock. He gazed upon them for a
moment with more than paternal interest, and then said with deep solemnity,
'Remember, my friends, it is a fearful thing and a very wicked thing, too,
not to love such a God as I have told you about to-day.' The fatherly hand
was raised; there was heard 'Grace, mercy, and peace be with you all';
and the congregation scattered. Mary took the 'wild winding way to her
home. She trod that way but slowly, for her heart was too full for haste.
As she approached the dwelling, an inexpressible feeling of tenderness
stole over her. She remembered a scene in the 'north room thirteen years
before, when, a little child of six years, she heard her dying father say
with faltering voice: 'My dear children,
what shall I say to you? God bless you, my children!' and then be was parted from them to enter into the fullness of blessing. The never-to-be-forgotten prayers of her mother passed before her and she exclaimed, 'Why should I not be blessed of my parents' God?' and turned away from her home to the hill-top to be alone with her Father in heaven. She dwelt upon his wisdom, holiness, mercy, and justice till peace came to her troubled soul and she exclaimed, 'O God, thy ways are perfect; be thou my Father and the guide of my youth, my everlasting portion.' Her heart now melted in love to him who bad reconciled her to his Father and her Father. She looked upon the far off mountains in all their grandeur, on the deep valleys with the widely extended plains and the smiling villages below, and then thought of the kingdoms of the world, and, to use her own words, I longed to lay them all at the feet of him who had redeemed' her. Twelve years afterward she wrote, 'I remember that moment as though it were but yesterday.'"
The desire which she thus felt and expressed at the age of nineteen was to become the inspiration of her life, but unbounded thirst for knowledge deferred for a time a life of consecration. At Byfield five years later, the self-classification which Mr. Emerson desired of his pupils brought her to face the question of her personal relations to God. She was greatly agitated, for though the friends of Christ were her chosen friends, she had not consciously classed herself among them. She did so then only after much deliberation, and with fear and trembling; but she was grateful ever after that she had been called to meet this test. Its salutary effect upon herself led to a carefully guarded use of the same measure in her own schools.
In March, 1822, she united with the Congregational church in Buckland.
The inner life is known chiefly by the fruit it bore. She had a strong
aversion to religious diaries. Indeed, she was always too busy planning,
praying, and teaching, to keep a journal of
her feelings. For several years, occasional remarks in her correspondence show that in assurance of hope and in special Christian activity, her spiritual growth was gradual. From the first a reverent regard for the Bible led her to improve every opportunity to show how its truths are indorsed by history or natural science. Enthusiasm over the beauty and sublimity of the Bible ripened into efforts to rouse the conscience and waken personal responsibility. By degrees it became her great aim to lead pupils "into the truth as it is in Jesus "that they in turn should do the same for others.' She often said to an intimate friend, about 1828, "I think it very doubtful whether I ever see heaven myself, but I mean to do all in my power to prepare others for that blessed world." Having set herself to this work her own hopes grew clear, and her progress marked.
At the Centennial of the Buckland Church, in 1885, she was described
as the most earnest Christian worker ever connected with it. The historian
adds: "In all her later schools here, she labored first and most for the
conversion of her scholars. The result was that through those scholars,
revivals were carried to the towns around." The character of the school
was so well understood that it is said when ministers in the sanctuary
prayed for colleges, they prayed also for the school at Buckland. At Derry
and Ipswich the, dews of divine grace were almost constantly descending.
In an address after her death President Hitchcock said: "A blessed result
of her elevated piety was the almost constant presence in the schools which
she taught of that divine influence which renews the heart. She lived to
witness nearly thirty special revivals and not less than eleven in the
twelve years of her new seminary." During the first six years not a graduate,
and one year not a pupil, was left in the school without a hope in Christ.
Another year, only three. In twelve years there were sixteen hundred pupils,
and more than four hundred and sixty hopeful conversions.
By a remarkable coincidence Pliny Fiske, Jonas King, and Levi Parsons were born within forty days of each other and within twelve miles of the place where Mary Lyon was born less than five years afterward. Mary Lyon never crossed the sea, but her pupils are in every corner of the earth. Her, first interest in foreign missions began in childhood with hearing of Carey, of Mills and his associates; it increased with the sailing of the first missionaries; it grew with the growth of the American Board, whose history from the first she eagerly followed. We have seen that her first Christian desires were to lay the kingdoms of the world at the feet of the Redeemer. New inspiration in this direction was gained at Byfield. On returning to her home, she organized the first missionary society in Buckland. With characteristic zeal she visited, in person or by proxy, every house in town, canvassing for members and for materials for work, letting down bars or climbing stone walls in order to reach more speedily the remoter dwellings. Over sixty children were enlisted. The socks they knit were exchanged for shoes and for cotton which their mothers wove into sheeting. In due time a box of socks, shoes, and twenty pairs of sheets was sent to the American Board. In these days of multiplied organizations for women and children it is of interest to note that it was nearly fifty years after this, and twenty years after her death, that the Woman's Board of Missions was formed, yet Mrs. Bowker, its president, attributes much of the present widespread interest to Mary Lyon, her teacher at Ipswich, and ascribes to the same person the beginning of her own interest in missions.
As a teacher, she sought by well planned efforts, not merely the
conversion of her pupils, but their enlistment for the salvation of the
world. The motives to which she appealed were Christian sympathy and a
sense of personal responsibility. She labored with rare success to launch
her pupils on a voluntary course of steadfast self-denial. In gifts to
the Lord her own ex-
ample led the way. The income of Mount Holyoke Seminary was the Lord's money. She would never ac-cept from it more than a salary of two hundred dollars and a home within its walls. But from that salary she was not content to give a tithe. For several years before her death nearly one-half found its way into the treasury of the Lord. By her will she left to the American Board, in reversion, property exceeding two thousand dollars in value. Her school caught so much of the spirit of their head that in the last seven years of her life the amount of their contributions was nearly seven thousand dollars. That given by the pupils was taken from their allowance for dress and amusements.
Seventeen, at least, who had been under her instruction before she left Ipswich, became foreign missionaries. To these were added thirty-six of her Holyoke pupils, of whom two were associate principals, and seven others teachers at the seminary. With one exception each senior class for the first fifteen years bad one or more representatives in the foreign field. Twelve other pupils of the first twelve years became teachers among the Indians in our own country. Of these forty-eight, nineteen did not finish the seminary course. Those who became wives of home missionaries or teachers at the West and South, are numbered by hundreds.
A notice from the pen of Hannah Lyman published soon after her death, March 5, 1849, contains the following paragraph:-
"Is she missed? Scarcely a state in the American Union but contains
those she trained. Long ere this, amid the hunting grounds of the Sioux
and the villages of the Cherokees, the tear of the missionary has wet the
page which has told of Miss Lyon's departure. The Sandwich Islander will
ask why his white teacher's eye is dim as she reads her American letters.
The swarthy African will lament with his sorrowing guide who cries, 'Help,
Lord! for the godly ceaseth.' The cinnamon groves of Ceylon and the palm
trees of India overshadow her early deceased missionary pupils, while
those left to bear the burden and heat of the day will wail the saint whose prayers and letters they prized so much. Among the Nestorians of Persia and at the base of Mount Olympus will her name be breathed softly, as the household name of one whom God hath taken."
Another wrote: "Mary Lyon was one of the great spiritual teachers of the world. She possessed that very rare power of waking to activity the moral and spiritual nature. It has been said of her contemporary, Dr. Arnold, that he was the inspirer of more noble lives than any other man of the age. Dr. Arnold did a great work, but Mary Lyon's was greater. He came as a. worker into an established order of things, and vitalized it with his own consecrated spirit. Mary Lyon created a new order of things, devised a system for developing dormant powers, and worked out her noble plan through evil and through good report."
Her life has not inaptly been called an epic. Rising from obscurity, she worked her way upward without retrogression. Advancing novel opinions, adopting original methods, she arrested public attention, stirred the hearts of Christians, and encountered inevitable opposition, yet kept straight onward, turning even defeat into a larger success. She knew her own defects and how to select her assistants. Her enthusiasm wag contagious, her example inspiring. She knew what she undertook. The cost was counted. Plans were laid with deliberation. Obstacles were weighed, and either removed or overcome. The wise confessed her superior wisdom. Returning only blessing for reproach she won friends from opposers, and ultimately outlived the prejudice of all who came to appreciate her motive, and her work. Her sympathetic heart was great by nature; it expanded by consecration to Christ. By degrees all her magnificent capabilities were brought under the control of sympathy with his work.
bracing all, and yet loving each one as though alone. It was not untiring perseverance, or an executive power, seldom equaled. It was Christ formed in her and working by her. That one fact was the source of all her excellence. There has been but one incarnation. Only once has the Word become flesh and dwelt among us. But through union to him, that image of God in which Adam was created, is restored to his apostate children, and I never knew it so perfect as in the founder of this seminary. Hers was not a religion of human resolutions made prosperous, or help granted to human endeavor, but it was a being cut off from her own root and grafted into Christ, and so she bore much fruit. Lives like hers teach us that just as Christ once wrought miracles through the members of that body that was nailed to the cross, so now also he works miracles of grace through the Church which is his body, in such a sense that its members can say, 'I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me,' and so we can say of Mary Lyon, and those who like her appre-ciate this relation to Christ. She wrought, and yet it was not herself, but Jesus Christ wrought his work through her."
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