Showing posts with label Mary Lyons; Buckland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Lyons; Buckland. Show all posts

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mary W. Howes, Lucinda Pomeroy and Electa Wing: Early Pomeroy Family Graduates of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and Pioneers of Women’s Education.


by Kate Corbett Pollack

Higher education for American women was either not an option or was severally limited for much of the country’s early history. From the Colonial era to the mid-1800s, women rarely went beyond grade school or being tutored at home. While both of those sources of education could be of very good quality, the opportunity to continue on to college as men did was not available, nor was becoming a teacher or principal of a school.  Teachers, school administrators and those in academia were male. Even at the local one-room school house, teachers were primarily young, unmarried men. Colleges for women were scarce or nonexistent, depending on the region of the country, till about 1840. By the late 1700s, a few Female Seminaries had opened in the United States, but remained either educationally lacking or inaccessible to women for many reasons, some of which will be touched on in this article. For New England and New York women, the opening of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 in South Hadley, Massachusetts, created a new opportunity to receive a college education that was the same curriculum as a man’s, something that was previously almost unheard of. Some families embraced this change, such as the family of Lucinda Pomeroy, an early Mount Holyoke graduate. Others, like the families of Mary W. Howes, related to the Southampton Pomeroys[i], and Electa Wing, a cousin of Mary’s (both of Buckland, Massachusetts), did not, nor did they provide the financial means for their daughters to go. For women like Mary and Electa, coming up with tuition and finishing college was almost impossible, and indeed, most who attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in its earlier years were not able to graduate[ii]. For the majority of the students, obstacles like those experienced by Mary and Electa were contributing factors. Mary, Lucinda and Electa did graduate, however, and all three went on to work as teachers or college administrators, continuing the vision of Mount Holyoke’s founder, Mary Lyon, that her students work to make education available to women all over the country and the world.

Mary W. Howes may have grown up in this home in Buckland, Massachusetts, or close by. Across the street is Mary Lyon Church, where Mary W. Howes’ grandfather, Reverend Josiah Spaulding, baptized Mary Lyon in 1822. Further down the street is the house where Mary Lyon taught school. Among her students was Mary W. Howes’ father, Ezra.
Mary W. Howes (1823-1910) was the first woman in her family who was able to go to college. The possibility became real with the opening of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College), in Mary Howes’ region of Massachusetts[iii]. Mary’s family saw its male members go to college almost as a matter of course, with patriarch Reverend Spaulding, Mary’s grandfather, graduating from Yale in 1778[iv]. Although she was the daughter of a judge, and her family had money, Reverend Spaulding’s wife and Mary’s grandmother and namesake, Mary Williams (1756-1823), could barely write. This was not at all uncommon for women of her era. The family was Puritan. Protestant founders Martin Luther and John Calvin thought that a woman’s place was in the home, and after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the tradition among adherents to this religion was that women did not need much of an education. Prior to this, Catholic women whose families had enough money could receive education in convents, which were almost like private schools, and were allowed to have certain leadership roles in the church and community. Reverend Spaulding and Mary Williams’ children were educated, and only son Josiah was sent to Williams College, but the Spaulding sisters (all of whom were born in the late 1700s) did not receive much instruction beyond secondary school. Unlike their mother, they could write legibly and well[v], but were expected to take care of the household and other family members, and to get married and have children, often when they were still teenagers. Higher education was not deemed necessary for Mary’s mother, Lydia, and Aunts. Their lives took an extremely different course from their male counterparts. Letters between Isaac Pomeroy, Mary Howes’ Uncle, and his brother Rufus, discussed completely different things than letters sent to Isaac’s wife Mary Spaulding from her sisters. The men and women in the Buckland and Southampton Spaulding and Pomeroy families of this era lived in two very separate worlds. Women did not participate in the public sphere of life such as college, career, civic duties or Church leadership. Their world was the private one of home and family. Their husbands were rarely mentioned in any of their letters, and it seems that they almost do not exist. The men mentioned the women even less, if at all. While Rufus and Isaac discussed politics, education, careers and theology (Rufus studied to become a minister), Mary Spaulding and her sisters spoke of their difficult lives taking care of children, their homes, and various family members. They wrote of religion, but not in quite the same way- for them the thought of Heaven being a place where they can finally be happy was a central theme. They did not have the education to be able to discuss theology, an enjoyable intellectual exercise for their male relatives and their husbands. The women’s lives were intensely focused on the immediate concerns of daily survival in an era that was rife with disease and offered little in the way of medicine or labor-saving technology. The majority of the Spaulding and Pomeroy women in the family died before they were 55, because they were so worn out from childbirth and hard work[vi]. There was virtually no other lifestyle they could have had, and it had been this way in their families for centuries.

Mary Lyon Church, originally called the First Congregational Church of Buckland. This is where Reverend Spaulding preached his Puritan-Calvinist doctrine to most of the inhabitants of the town from 1794-1823.

The young women of the next generation, the daughters of the Spaulding sisters, looked to any available escape from this way of life, although most of them befell the same fates as their mothers[vii]. Mary W. Howes, the only surviving child of Lydia Spaulding and Ezra Howes, saw education as a chance to get far away from Buckland, and to pursue her own intellect, something she thoroughly enjoyed doing. Like certain other young women of her generation, Mary Howes chose to deliberately forgo courtship, marriage and childrearing in order to focus on her own endeavors and ambitions. A woman of her time could not do both. This is why college held such a great appeal to students like Mary. Her education could provide for her into the rest of her life, allowing further escape from the drudgery of housework and expectation of almost constant pregnancy and childbirth. The early deaths and struggles of all of her aunts, her mother, and most of her cousins were not lost on Mary Howes.

The kitchen hearth in the home where Mary W. Howes’ mother grew up, in Buckland. The same style of hearth would have been in the homes of Electa and Lucinda, and used by their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. For centuries, this was where many early American women spent much of their lives, toiling over a blazing fire in order to cook and do housework. It was very hard work and often wore women out before their 50th birthday. College and career provided an escape from this life. Mary Lyon designed Mount Holyoke to be as accessible as possible to women of all financial backgrounds.

Many other young women in the area were of the same mind as Mary, and had witnessed the similar struggles of their closest women relatives. Among the first students to attend Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary were four Pomeroys- Jerusha (1837-8), Lucinda (the only one among this early group who graduated, in 1844), Lydia B. (1842-4), and Miranda (1841-2)[viii]. At this time in particular, support for educated women was still minimal, and coming up with tuition could be a challenge. Often young women relied on their fathers to pay it, as he would be the only family member who earned an income. Many fathers were not inclined to do so, despite Mount Holyoke’s low rates. The idea of women going to college was very new, and some fathers did not understand how it might benefit their daughters. In an 1845 letter to Mary Lyon from her niece, Electa Wing[ix], the young woman told her aunt of her difficulties in procuring tuition money from her father:

Dear Aunt…It is still my settled wish to return next year and complete the course of study, I cannot tell definitely what father will do for me relative to means. He speaks favorably of my returning and thinks he can perhaps assist me some, he has been gone from home almost the whole of the time since we returned, so that I have had scarcely no time to spend with him on the subject he went again early this morning, but I succeeded in finding a moment to speak to him, and asked him whether he felt able and willing to assist me some, he said in reply that he was owing some money, has lost considerable and expected to lose some more, but said he, “I will think of it, I am in haste this morning but I will think of it”...this is to me as favorable as I shall expect.


Stained glass window memorializing Mary Lyon (1797-1849) at Mary Lyon Church, Buckland, Massachusetts. Mary Lyon grew up in Buckland and first taught school there before going on to found Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 in South Hadley. Her endeavors made it possible for Lucinda Pomeroy, Mary W. Howes and Electa Wing, among many other young women, to attend college and receive and excellent education. All three became teachers and school administrators upon graduating. They were among the first generation of American women teachers.

Despite this difficulty, Electa was able to graduate from the Seminary and went on to have a teaching career, due in part to Mary Lyon providing her with the money and support to do so. She obtained a paid teaching job in Ohio, but sadly only lived to be 29 years old, dying in 1847, but not before she taught at Ohio schools, bringing education to young women in areas that did not previously offer it. She continued to write to her Aunt Mary Lyon up to her death.[x]

Mary W. Howes also had difficulty coming up with enough tuition to attend the seminary long enough to graduate, despite her father’s wealth. Ezra had been instructed in Mary Lyon’s Buckland classrooms when he was a boy, but did not feel that his own daughter should receive the same educational opportunities as he had. In an 1843 letter to her Aunt Mary Ann Pomeroy of Southampton, and her cousin, Mary Ann Jr., Mary wrote:

I so much desire [education] having attained but little more than a solitary grain from an overflowing storehouse, which I think can be opened to me if my funds were sufficient; by close investigation and patient study, and this I should accomplish [should] my friends view the importance of it in the light it appears to me; two hundred dollars with the two years of time would allow me to graduate at South Hadley, and this amount of money could not procure for me a greater amount of enjoyment in any other way…[xi]


Other letters from Mary to her cousins reveal that Ezra was not supportive of her education, and she consistently had to appeal to the women in the family for support. In a July 28th, 1845 letter written from Mt. Holyoke Seminary from Mary to her cousin Deborah S. Coleman (the daughter of Mary’s aunt Nancy Spaulding):

My dear cousin Deborah,

I have just received a letter from home Which contained not very grateful intelligence. It was in reply to one I wrote requesting Father to come and the cause of it not being very thankfully said was the he considered it very doubtful about his coming & how I am going home is a mystery. Forgive the encouragement that you should be here at examination as rather at anniversary and Mrs Pomroy with her usual kindness and accommodation proposed the same thing last spring.

Further research is needed to reveal which “Mrs. Pomroy” Mary is referring to. This Mrs. Pomeroy is mentioned again, later in the letter:

I want very much myself to take a school, but have not as yet… I wonder if I could possibly get a school in Westhampton If Mrs Pomeroy is acquainted there I wish she would do me the favor of a recommendation at least.

It is most likely that Mrs. Pomeroy was a relative who supported Mary’s education, and contributed to her being able to actually graduate. She also seems to have had connections in education, as Mary thought she might be able to get her a teaching job. While Mary’s father would not even do her the courtesy of picking her up from school and returning her home for summer vacation, leaving her stranded and worried during her final examinations, some of Mary’s women cousins seemed to be more understanding. Mary wrote to them frequently about her studies and her life. Her 1843 letter in which she appealed to her cousin and Aunt for funds also mentioned that she had a teaching job in nearby Sunderland. This job, however, was not enough to pay her tuition. How she was ultimately able to come up with the money is a mystery, but Mary graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1846, one year before the arrival of Emily Dickinson. Her life and career took her on many great adventures, and she traveled all over the United States and the world. In the 1850s, Mary worked in rural southwestern Alabama opening colleges for women during the height of slavery, and what she saw there influenced her thoughts on Abolition. She joined the congregation of Abolitionist minister Albert Barnes in Philadelphia after leaving the south in about 1857. During the Civil War, she was a nurse in the Union Army under the renowned mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, and in the 1880s was a member of the congregation of the famous Abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher (the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe),in Brooklyn, New York. By that time she had married Peter Goddard of Buckland (in 1865) and became mother to his son, Dr. Frederick Leland. The couple also adopted a son named August the year they were married. The entire family relocated to Sitka, Alaska, in the early 1900s to open a therapeutic hot springs Sanitarium, which still exists today and is called Goddard Hotel. Mary remained in contact with Mount Holyoke until the end of her life, corresponding with their librarian and Memorandum Society up to her death in 1910.


Lucinda Pomeroy had more family support to attend college than Mary or Electa. Her parents encouraged her and her sisters’ education. The eldest of the eight surviving children born to Oren and Lucinda Pomeroy, of Somers, Connecticut (a city that borders Massachusetts near Springfield), Lucinda was always encouraged to learn. Her mother, also named Lucinda (b. 1801), was a teacher of adult women at her church in Somers, and considered an inspiration to the town. The elder Lucinda’s father, Capt. Samuel Pomeroy of Somers, was a well-loved teacher, and encouraged his daughter. Lucinda married Oren Pomeroy, a Deacon and her second cousin, in 1822. Lucinda (Jr.) was born in 1823, the same year as her future classmate Mary Howes, and was an intelligent child. Her mother made sure to tutor Lucinda, and she was enrolled in the best grade school available. Lucinda’s younger sisters also attended Mount Holyoke; Sarah Catherine Pomeroy and Harriet Strong Pomeroy (who became a teacher), both went.[xii] This family provides evidence that once college became available for women, some parents jumped at the chance to be able to send their daughters, although this was not the usual circumstance.

 Lucinda graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1844, and went on to teach in Freehold, New Jersey; Lockport and Pekin, New York, and West Stafford, Connecticut. Like Mary Howes, Lucinda was following Mary Lyon’s wish that graduating students continue her mission and bring educational opportunities to young women all over the country and the world. She died in Connecticut in 1895 at age 71.[xiii]

These three Pomeroy family women came from different backgrounds and had their own unique experiences with pursuing education. Each is an example from American history of the type of journey women from their era took in order to obtain their educational goals. We can look to their lives to understand how American women approached the new opportunity of college and career just as it was beginning to become available, and the resourcefulness that was so often required in order for them to do so. All three women were also among the early movement of teachers in the 1830s-1850s who traveled to other states and helped to found female seminaries where there previously were none. This was hard work and required that they go out of their element, to places where they did not know anyone and people were unused to women educators and administrators. It is in this way that they were reformers and pioneers. Reform takes the work of many, and is very slow. Today, educated women the world over can look to Mary Lyon and her students and colleagues with gratitude. In the developing world, the obstacles Mary Howes, Lucinda Pomeroy and Electa Wing faced are still very real hurdles for millions of women today. Education is still out of reach for many American women for some of the same reasons faced by women of Mary, Lucinda and Electa’s era. We can look to their legacy and remember that their work must be continued.




[i] Her Uncle and Aunt were Isaac Pomeroy (1781-1815) and Mary Spaulding (1785-1839).

[ii] General Catalogue of Officers and Students of Mount Holyoke Seminary, 1837-1887. Hadley: Mount Holyoke Seminary and College, 1889. 15-155

[iii] Other Female Seminaries had been open in New England before Mount Holyoke. Litchfield Female Academy (1792), Hartford Female Seminary (1823), and Ipswich Female Seminary (1828) were open in the area, but were not as close as Mt. Holyoke.

[iv] John Farmer Esq., A List of the Graduates, and Those Who Have Received Degrees, at all of the New England Colleges, The Quarterly Register VII (Feb 1835): 307
[v] Based on their letters in the collection of the APHGA.

[vi] Mary Spaulding Pomeroy d. 1839, age 53; Nancy Spaulding Coleman d. 1840, age 51; Deborah Spaulding d. 1845, age 51, Lydia Spaulding Howes d. 1836, age 39, (Josiah lived to be 81).

[vii] Mary Ann Pomeroy (Mary Spaulding Pomeroy’s daughter) d.1864 (age 49), Thankful Coleman (Nancy Spaulding Coleman’s daughter) d. 1853, age 37(the sisters’ other children died in childhood); Mary Ann Pomeroy, Jr. (Mary Ann Pomeroy’s daughter) d. 1861, age 24 (Mary Ann Pomeroy’s other children died in childhood).

[viii] Catalogue of the Memorandum Society of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for Thirty Years, Ending 1867. Northampton: Bridgman & Childs, 1867. 73.

[ix] Mary Lyon’s sister, Jemima (born at Buckland, 1787) married into part of the Spaulding family. From a February 6th, 1826 letter to Mary Spaulding Pomeroy from her sister, Nancy Spaulding Coleman:

Uncle Tobey had a fall from his barn shed last November the week before thanksgiving he fell on to his head and shoulders and his life was despaired of for some time but he has gotten better it was the same day that Bathsheba was married to a Mr Wing a widower with four children he lives in the center of the town of Hawley.

Bathsheba Tobey married Benjamin wing in 1825. Benjamin died ten years later, and Bathsheba then married his brother, Elisha. Elisha’s first wife was Jemima Lyon, Mary Lyon’s sister, and Electa’s mother. Electa was born in 1818. Jemima died in 1838. In 1840, Bathsheba and Elisha were married, making Bathsheba Electa’s stepmother. Mary Williams Spaulding’s sister, Deborah Williams, and Deacon Isaac Tobey were the parents of Bathsheba. Deacon Isaac was the Uncle mentioned in the above letter. See: Lyon(s), A.B., M.D., and G.W.A. Lyon, M.D. Lyon Memorial. Detroit: Wm. Graham Printing, 1905. Print.271-273.

[x] Ludwig, CR. "Correspondence of Electa Wing Class of 1846." Correspondence of Electa Wing Class of 1846. Mount Holyoke College, Mar. 2000. Web. 05 Oct. 2012. .

[xi]  $200 in 1843 would be about $6,250.00 in 2012.

[xii] Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties Connecticut. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1903.
[xiii] Lucinda’s brother, Oren Day Pomeroy, graduated at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and became a professor there. He held a position as the president of the American Otological Society and the New York Academy of Medicine, and owned the largest Otological clinic in the world at the time.