Exploring Women’s History via Higher Education
Did you know that Western Massachusetts is home to the first women’s college in the United States? In 1837 a female seminary was founded by chemist and educator Mary Lyon. This seminary is now Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. The college was founded at a time when women still did not have the right to vote, yet its founder’s famous words, “Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do,” certainly inspired young women to think beyond social boundaries in order to achieve, inspire and demonstrate the strength and dynamic voice of women.
Mt. Holyoke is the first of the seven sisters, a group of liberal arts colleges in the Northeast that were started as women’s colleges. Some of these schools are still women’s colleges today and two of them are here in Western Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley) and Smith College (Northampton).
Both of these college campuses are open to the public to enjoy the grounds, peruse the libraries and attend public lectures and events. Each college has an art museum with rich collections (Smith College Museum of Art and Mount Holyoke College Art Museum) and as well as concerts and theatrical performances. Many famous women throughout history have graduated from these institutions, including:
- Emily Dickinson (Mt. Holyoke College, 1849)
- Frances Perkins (Mt. Holyoke College, 1902)
- Virginia Agpar (Mt. Holyoke College, 1929)
- Gloria Johnson Powell (Mt. Holyoke College, 1958)
- Wendy Wasserstein (Mt. Holyoke College, 1971)
- Suzan-Lori Parks (Mt. Holyoke College, 1985)
- Margaret Mitchell (Smith College, 1922)
- Julia Child (Smith College, 1934)
- Betty Friedan (Smith College, 1942)
- Sylvia Plath (Smith College, 1955)
- Gloria Steinham (Smith College, 1956)
- Jane Yolen (Smith College, 1960)
- Victoria Chan Palay (Smith College, 1965)
- Molly Ivans (Smith College, 1966)
- Yolanda King (Smith College, 1976)
- Margaret Edson (Smith College, 1983)
- Simran Sethi (Smith College, 1992)
[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]
Download our March/April edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.