PAGE 91 
 

CHAPTER VII.

THEORY PUT TO TEST.

1838.

 

IT was Miss Lyon's theory that a seminary could be founded and conducted on the principle of benevolence. 

The building and its furniture were free gifts. Her teachers wrought with her in the spirit of the true minister or missionary, being supported, not compensated. And every pupil had come with the understanding that she was to contribute to the carrying on of this plan of benevolence by sharing in the care of the household, not as a servile labor, but as a benevolent service. Objectors, who had been sure that money would not be given, or if it were, that such teachers could not be found, still believed that this third feature would fail; and many warm friends feared the same. 

It is noteworthy that though the economy of this feature was at first a reason for its adoption, Miss. Lyon had discovered others so much stronger that she, hardly alludes to that in the circular of February, 1837. She saw that it would relieve from dependence on private families for board, a relief essential to permanent prosperity; that it would relieve also from dependence on hired domestics; and that the interest of the young ladies in home duties would be preserved, while the daily exercise would promote health and happiness. Before the school opened, so thoroughly had she become convinced that this plan was desirable, independently of its pecuniary advantages, that on one of her visits to Ipswich she sought to convince Miss Grant 

PAGE 92 

that it would be wise to adopt the same in Ipswich Seminary. And now this part of the theory was to be tested. Here were four-score people to be provided three times a day with food cooked by their own hands, and a great house to be kept in order, all without infringing upon school work. It is no small thing for a matron, even with well trained servants, to keep in order so large a boarding-house. It is yet more difficult lovingly to lead so many girl students to do it. To find a lady to whom the literary interests of the seminary could be in a degree committed was comparatively easy, but Miss Lyon could rely on no one else to organize the domestic department, and at first she gave this her chief attention. 

To the skill of a Napoleon in finding generals, she added the tact of an Elizabeth in discovering what each one could do and putting her in the right place. But then the very best one to aid in preparing dinner might be reciting in the geometry class at eleven o'clock. What was to be done? It was easier to change the hour of a recitation than to fill that place on the dinner circle. But to alter the recitationhour might interfere with the engagements of some one else and require another change. Never had Miss Lyon more frequent use for her wondrous powers of inven-tion. When for the twentieth time the literary and domestic departments interfered, for the twentieth time she readjusted her time table, and as cheerfully as at the first. She had often said at Ipswich that she could suggest plans by the score leaving Miss Grant to select which she chose. So, at Mount Holyoke her resources never failed, and in every exigency the right order of exercises appeared in due time. 

The combined care of school and family, that first winter, demanded from sixteen to eighteen hours of the twenty-four. Her celerity was wonderful, and yet she could scarcely answer the calls for her counsel that came from all parts of the building.. The smallest details of household cares were faithfully provided for. 

PAGE 93 

Not only had everything a place, but she knew when it was in place and how to keep it there. 

No wonder that, as she sometimes said, her head seemed full of bread, tin-dippers, and clothes-pins. But she saw "Holiness to the Lord" written on everything in the building and hence her minute care that nothing should be misused, not a window-sill be defaced, nor a "dust of flour" wasted. Surviving pupils recall the precept, "Never burn what a bird would open its bill to get." Through the domestic department they learned many a life-long lesson of economy, order, and faith-fulness in that which is least. 

To students bread is emphatically the staff of life. Considering the quantity needed, the season of the year, and the manner in which the work was done, no practical housekeeper would be surprised if the first attempts were unsuccessful. "We have the best of Hour," said Miss Lyon, "we can have good bread, and we must have it!" Not one in the house had ever before seen a Rumford oven. Selecting the most reliable pupils, she took the lead herself. Her writing desk was carried to the basement, and by snatches she conducted her large correspondence while watching the processes in the baking room. This she did till she had herself learned and taught her helpers all the mysteries of bread making. Her roommate at that time relates: "One day the bread was poor. As she told me of this new disappointment, Miss Lyon leaned her head on my shoulder and wept. Her girls must lack for another day the light, sweet bread they ought to have, and which she had tried so hard to give them. Soon she wiped her tears, passed to the inner room and shut the door. The next day's result led us reverently to say, 'The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.'" To Miss Lyon's view whatever was necessary to the health and comfort of her family was as vitally connected with the cause of Christ as direct labor for the salvation of souls. Morning after morning in the dark and cold, she rose to watch the rising of the bread 

PAGE 94 

with an eye as single to the glory of God as she rose to pray. With the simplicity of a child, she mingled prayer for souls with prayer for the work of her hands, expecting and receiving a sure answer. 

One of the bread-makers tells us: "In the evening Miss Lyon convened us in the baking room and proposed a new plan. It was carefully adopted. In the early morning we hastened to the basement. The light sponge was all ready for us. How glad Miss Lyon was! Eyes, voice, hands, feet, testified. She was so glad she could not stand still. 'See,' she said, 'our difficult prob-lem is solved! No more poor bread - no more interruptions in lessons and recitations! Now our arrangements will run like clock-work!'" 

In this connection, the same pupil gives another pict-ure of Miss Lyon: "In compliance with her request- -- 'Come to my room and let me know' -- I have entered to find her with her Bible, so absorbed, half in study, half in prayer, that knock or voice failed to rouse, till a hand rested on her shoulder. I think it was that same intense earnestness welling up from the heart, filling face and voice with something irresistible, that has left its impress upon so many of her pupils." 

By December, Miss Lyon wrote: "In their domestic work the young ladies are all that I could wish. I should not have supposed that in three weeks they could go forward with so much system." 

Near the end of the first year she wrote to Rev. Theron Baldwin, principal of Monticello Seminary, Illinois:- 

    On the whole the success of our institution in every department is greater than I anticipated. I am more and more interested in the enterprise as a means of developing certain principles of education for woman, especially the importance and feasibility of introducing system. Our experiment is entirely in favor of limiting the age. We have definite requirements for entrance: and though we thought it, expedient to admit pupils even for one quarter the first half-year, and for a term the second half, we now venture to require all to stay a year except in extraordinary cases. We can receive but about ninety. We have already had two hundred applications for next year. We have a fine class of students in scholarship and character.
PAGE 95 
    But your inquiries refer more particularly to that appendage of our plan -- the domestic department. It succeeds beyond my most sanguine expectations. Its advantages are far greater than I looked for. The difficulties and immense labor of organization were also much greater. It was far easier to find all my teachers than one qualified for the head of this department. In this respect I had been quite mistaken. Though the lady employed would do welt for many places, we soon found she could not meet the demands of this. In all such cases you know there is but one course to take. We must do the work ourselves. When we have an interest in planning we can sometimes make up in zeal what we lack in skill. The failure of my superintendent was a great disappointment, but it was not without its advantages. Every part of the plan of organization is the result of personal observation. For weeks I was engaged many hours daily, contriving about furniture and cooking utensils, and planning the division of labor, and for times, and places so that everything could be done in season and in order with-out interference with studies or recitations. I had several points to gain. One was a high standard in the manner of doing the work; and another was that every part of it should be in favor with the Young ladies. For three or four months I did not leave the seminary even for a half day. I then said that I considered the family organized and that I wished to go to Boston for a rest of some weeks and to see whether the wheels I had been so long in adjusting could run without my aid. On my return I found everything in order, and there has not been a time since when I could not be absent three months with-out sensible injury to that department. I need not go to the basement once a month now, though I like daily to pass from room to room to see how delightfully all goes on. I trust you will excuse this egotist-ical description. Its object is to give the facts as they are. But to be more definite: the work is done by circles, each having, a leader; They are formed for one term; every young lady is responsible to be on the spot at the appointed time, and the leader is responsible that the work is done well. One circle washes and keeps in order the crockery; a second washes and rubs knives a third has the care of the glass and silver a fourth of setting tables; a fifth of sweeping public rooms (private rooms are cared for by the occupants); a sixth of making bread; a seventh of preparing pastry; an eighth of baking bread and pastry; the ninth, tenth, and eleventh prepare the meals. 
    The young ladies like to keep our house as neat as the neatest. They never object to washing floors - all are painted - twice a week or every day if needful, nor to rubbing knives every meal. How unlike common domestics! I have been a boarder for more than twenty years, but never had everything done for me so well as now. 

    Our circumstances are so favorable that our case is scarcely a test for other institutions. In the first place we have no pupils under sixteen. Nearly all are from good New England families and are con-scientious and efficient, generally well taught and well trained in housework. Secondly, we have no domestics. At first I thought we

PAGE 96  
 
    might need one or two, but now think we are better off without them. If anything is not quite so pleasant, the query never rises whether it is more suitable that servants should do it. No one feels she is doing a work from which she could be relieved by paying money. We hire a man to take care of our garden, saw wood, and do various things for our comfort. Thirdly, our family is so large that by a proper division of the work all can be done if each gives to it about an hour a day. 

    Among the incidental advantages of the system may be named the union of family interest it secures, the social intercourse, and the healthful exercise - more healthful than if taken for its own sake merely. The older and more studious are generally more inclined to be negligent in this respect, especially in the winter. This plan gives each an hour of exercise daily and at the same hour. No time is wasted in debating whether it shall be taken or omitted. It proves no hindrance, but a help to mental activity. Social freedom and vivacity add to its benefit. One young lady said she was somewhat homesick at first, but the first washing day was an effectual cure. The home feeling is strengthened, and each member becomes identified with the family. We have but one interest instead of the three separate interests of most boarding-houses, - that of the head of the house, that of the boarders, and that of domestics. The unfavorable effect of these separate interests I regard as one of the greatest objections to sending daughters to boarding-schools. It endangers the simplicity, kindness, and mutual confidence which have been so tenderly fostered at home, and tends to develop artfulness, selfishness, and distrust. 

    I have no confidence in mere theory in education. Our plans are a combination drawn from experience and practical observation. Thus far we have been enabled to accomplish on every point all that we have encouraged the public to expect.

In calling this department an "appendage of the plan" Miss Lyon alludes to the fact that though she saw more and more reasons in its favor, she did not regard it as an essential feature, but one which could be modified or abandoned as circumstances might require. Though she succeeded in reducing it to admirable order, and made wheel move within wheel without friction, she often said: "This department is too complicated and requires too much care to be continued were it not for its great advantages. If dollars and cents alone were concerned we would drop it at once. Had I known how complicated its working must be, perhaps I should never have undertaken it; but a kind Providence hid many of its difficulties and I see so much in it for the comfort of the household and favorable to each member individually - 

PAGE 97 

that I am willing to take all this care. Young ladies at school with all the helps and comforts which they should have, naturally incline more to being ministered unto than to minister to others. To counteract this there is needed the special cultivation of an unselfish spirit, while opportunities for its cultivation are comparatively few. To bring every such opportunity to bear on the character is a leading object in our arrangements. We would furnish an example of a Christian family. In their varied and mutual domestic duties the young ladies daily find many occasions for exercising a generous and self-denying spirit, whose influence will be felt through life. The system also helps to cultivate a sense of obligation and gratitude. Home life is little less than a continuous conferring and receiving of favors. Domestic happiness depends on their being conferred with a willing heart and received with suitable tokens of gratitude. These traits go hand in hand. The formation of a grateful disposition is specially im-portant in a lady's education. Parents should seek to give their daughters privileges, and especially the means of an education, in a manner suited to lead them to re-alize that they are favors for which gratitude is due." 

One to whom the position of domestic superintendent was offered, replied, "Perhaps some of my friends might consider it dishonorable." But Miss Lyon saw only honor in mutual ministries for comfort, and no dishonor in waiting upon one's self. Such ministry and self-service from a worthy motive ennobles any labor. That she did not object to things repulsive to a worldly or self-seeking spirit, appears from her playful words: "This feature also serves as a sieve, holding back the indolent, the fastidious, and the feeble - of whom we never could make much - and giving us the finest of the wheat, the energetic, the benevolent, and those whose early training has been favorable to usefulness." 

It is not strange that Miss Lyon's lofty aims were misunderstood, nor that her methods should fail to be appreciated in advance; and no clearer proof can be given 

PAGE 98  

that the system is still above the common comprehen-sion, than the frequency with which the seminary is referred to as a "manual labor school." Even in 1885 the historian of another seminary in New England remarks, "It has never been thought best to introduce the industrial element as at Mount Holyoke." It would be equally appropriate to call any family which employs no servants a "manual-labor family"; or to ascribe to it on that ground the introduction of an industry. But a false impression sometimes seems ineradicable; and there is yet occasion, even in Massachusetts, to repeat Miss Lyon's words: "It is no part of the design of the seminary to teach housework; that would make it far too complicated and expensive. However important this part of a woman's education, a literary institution is not the place to acquire it." "But only the other day," writes a recent graduate, "a clergyman told me in good faith that cooking and general housekeeping had always been taught at the seminary. He would hardly believe me when I assured him it was not so. I asked him how it could be, when for perhaps half the year the same young lady only dusted recitation rooms an hour a day, or wiped dishes, or set tables; how many different things could she learn in four years? 'O, but they change every once in a while, and so in the whole course they learn everything,' was the reply." 

The writer adds: "However, I believe we did learn to take pretty good care of our own rooms. I remember how mortified I was when one of the teachers blacked her fingers on our dusty window sash." 

The success of the feature the first year was enough to mark it as a stroke of genius, yet that success scarcely lessened opposition. Says Dr. Hitchcock in the memoir of Miss Lyon, "’How long must it be tried to satisfy you,' I asked of a friend who thought it must fail. 'Five years,' he replied; and although when the five years had ended the success was still complete, he was no more satisfied than at the first. Others said that when the novelty was over it would be unpopular and 

PAGE 99 

must be abandoned. When they found that five or ten years only gave it greater perfection, - when on visiting the seminary they saw how admirably affairs were managed and how inviting was the food, - then they predicted that as soon as Miss Lyon should be removed this feature must be given up. Yet more than two years have passed since that event and never was the arrangement more satisfactory than now. I know not what other period of time will be fixed upon for it to come to an end, unless it be the close of the present century. In that case present unbelievers at least will be spared the mortification of confessing that Miss Lyon's judgment in this matter was better than their own." 

The details of the system are constantly being modified as circumstances require, but the principles Miss Lyon adopted remain unchanged. The better they are understood, the more they are prized. 

Holyoke students of to-day, exempt from the heavier kinds of work, enjoying the elevator, steam for heating and for culinary purposes, with a matron to superintend the cooking and a man to take all care of the oven and its use, - can only partially appreciate the inconveniences of earlier days or the noble spirit of their predecessors. 

That first year brought together a heroic band; nearly all were professing Christians - young women of lofty aims, and steady devotion to Christ. Most were over twenty years of age, and some had suspended their studies for two or three years that they might finish them at Holyoke. Four entered the senior and thirty-four the middle class. Three were assistant pupils. Never were gathered eighty more willing hearts or nimbler hands. Their zeal for the new seminary was scarcely inferior to Miss Lyon's. Their ambition was to vie with one another in self-denying labors for its prosperity. They loved it the more for the sacrifices they made, for the toils they shared with their leader. They counted it an honor to aid in carrying out her plans. Catching her spirit, the love of Christ constrained them 

PAGE 100 

no less when employed in household cares than in wor-ship. Scattered in many lands, they have been almost without exception servants of Christ, asking neither thanks nor praise from man, seeking no reward but the consciousness of entering into the work and sufferings of their divine Master. Some have reached the goal and received their crown; others are still serving or suffering. 

We have seen that Miss Lyon had placed the charge for board and tuition, against the advice of trustees, at sixty-four dollars for the year. Provisions were high that year. Never did financier more carefully husband resources. Her biographer says:- 

"At the close of the year when her accounts showed the trustees that the income had more than met the outgoes, their incredulity vanished. They saw that she understood business. For the next sixteen years the annual charge was sixty dollars. Gladly would the directors of many a corporation pay thousands for such financial skill as she exercised, almost to her own cost. 

"Let it not be supposed that Miss Lyon's labors that first year were limited to domestic and financial interests. Besides giving systematic religious instruction, she matured a course of study, watched the recitations, directed individual students in the selection of studies, criticised compositions, instructed the middle class in chemistry - performing with them a course of experiments, and taught several other branches. For the first time in her life she taught Whately's Logic, and entered into it with as much eagerness and relish as she had plunged into Virgil in the days of her youth." 

The year closed Thursday, August 23rd. On Monday and Tuesday there were public examinations in the seminary hall. Wednesday, while part of the school attended the commencement exercises in Amherst, others prepared for the forty guests of the next day. The closing examinations were on Thursday forenoon and the graduating exercises in the afternoon, with an address by Rev. Dr. Hawes of Hartford. He was a 

PAGE 101 

friend of Mr. Condit and was entertained in his home. A friend. of the family says: "After attending the examinations for a time, Dr. Hawes came to Mr. Condit's and asked to be left undisturbed in his room, explaining to Mrs. Condit that he left home without a very high opinion of the 'manual labor school,' but that he had come from the seminary hall to give himself - without regard to meals or late hours - to preparing an address more worthy of the occasion, for it would never do to present anything he had brought with him." 

In Miss Lyon's account of the week to Miss Grant we find these items: "The question of going to the meeting-house Thursday afternoon came up once or twice and was settled in the negative, as I felt a great reluctance to it. Wednesday evening I found that the trustees and others were becoming decided that it was best to go. I thought it the most modest to acquiesce. The certificates were given at the close of the services, but no other exercise differed from a common public meeting. It did not appear unsuitable as I thought it would, and I was glad I consented. Our certificates were signed by Miss Caldwell and myself and countersigned by Mr. Condit, the secretary of the board. They were presented by Mr. Condit in his own neat and elegant manner." 

The diploma is in English. At the top is a vignette from a design by Mrs. Dr. Hitchcock, illustrative of the words beneath, " That our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace - Ps. cxliv. 12. The seal of the seminary, bearing a similar device, is attached by a ribbon to the parchment. 

The following is from Miss Caldwell's pen: "The trustees, the orator of the day, the teachers, the senior class, and the school, walked to the church in procession, the school clad in white, with heads uncovered, and shaded by parasols. The side pews and galleries were already crowded when Miss Lyon led her beautiful troop in quiet dignity to the seats reserved for them. It was an hour in her life never to be forgotten. The  

PAGE 102 

battle had been fought, the victory was hers. In all that year she had never found an hour to spend in astonishment at her success, but now, when circumstances forced the view upon her, wonder, gratitude, and praise filled her heart. Her great soul was surcharged with joy; smiles and tears strove for the mastery on her radiant face. For an hour she resigned herself to the emotions of the occasion and gave way to a joy with which no one could intermeddle." 

[END OF CHAPTER VII]