My Dear Miss Beecher

Historical fiction / A seminary / Shampoo / 941w

South Hadley, July 28, 1828

Catherine Beecher

My dear Miss Beecher,

I have been designing to reply to your letter, and do apologize for the delay, for you know how it is with me & my time. I have also been ill with a chest cold, and even now I write this from the comfort of a warm bath.

It is so very gratifying & sweet to hear of Mr. Jones’ words about my qualifications. Though I would like to offer myself the high gratification of accepting your offer, I must decline it, for as you say my current contact with Miss Grant ties me here to my current position. However, I should be grateful for the kindness of an occasional letter from you regarding the progress made at your institution, for I have designs myself of one day opening a school for the young ladies of Massachusetts.

For the present moment I shall content myself with the knowledge that you are joining us in our pursuit of higher (or indeed existent) standards for the edification of women. Your new Seminary in Hartford will, I am certain, be a center of learning of incontestable merit.

I hope that you enjoy a bountiful and successful term.

Affectionately yours,

Mary Lyon

P.S. I apologize for the smudge that fell across my name just now. It was a flake of hair-soap (and thus do I learn not to compose my correspondence whilst half-immersed…)

South Hadley, June 1, 1837

Margaret Roofs

My dear Miss Roofs,

I write to tell you, with excitement, that the female Seminary of which I spoke to you at length July last shall open its doors to scholars this October, in Mount Holyoke. We offer a curriculum of learning as robust & as comprehensive as any in the celebrated Ivy League (nest of pomposity that it is). You will be, I hope, overjoyed to learn that we require seven courses in mathematics & the sciences. Students will perform experiments to discover by strength of their own wit the mechanisms of which you spoke so passionately at our luncheon in Boston.

I am of course asking you, with sincerest respect and highest hopes, to consider taking a position with us at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. The compensation which we can offer you for your expertise shall follow, but I hope to convince you more eloquently in person when I see you nextmonth at the annual meeting of our Society.

Our shared vision of furthered opportunities for women in higher learning will, I hope, urge you to give thought to my request before we meet. You will find enclosed with this letter the Seminary’s official literature regarding admission, coursework, and facilities.

Respectfully yours,

Mary Lyon

South Hadley, January 11, 1841

Thomas Studebaker


I write relative to your daughter, Jane, regarding her progress through the Seminary’s requirements for graduation in good standing. It is my duty as Principal to inform you that Jane is at risk of failure this Spring term, for the reasons that follow:

Although she demonstrates satisfactory acumen in calisthenics and the skills of home-keeping, she trails her classmates in the physical sciences, in mathematics, and in her recitations of Scripture. Unless her instructors see good reason to alter her marks in the approaching term, she must need to remain with us an additional term in order to graduate.

I earnestly await your reply. Trust that we do desire for your Jane to graduate, and shall do whatever it is we can to ensure it.

Respectfully yours,

Mary Lyon

South Hadley, June 30, 1841

The Reverend Alistair Clark

Rev. Clark,

Regarding your recent visit to our Seminary and your two subsequent letters.

I thank you for your keen & vocal interest in the spiritual well-being of our pupils. It is a pleasure for me to inform you that they are already well maintained in matters of the spirit by a strong Congregationalist course of religious study. You needn’t worry yourself any further with this issue nor would I wish you to trouble yourself by again attempting to engage in personal correspondence with our pupils.


Mary Lyon

P.S. There will be no need to respond to this letter.

South Hadley, January 13, 1842

Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Cork

Sir and Madam,

I received your letter of concern some weeks ago and have been prevented from a speedier response due to an unexpected weather event, the proportions of which I am sure you heard. I would like to reassure you as Amelia enters her second term at Mt. Holyoke that the cost of tuition does and ever shall remain sixty dollars, and you needn’t worry that we will ask a penny more. I believe quite strongly that education must be available to all women.

Amelia continues to be an exceptional student & her vocal prowess in particular must give you cause to celebrate. I hope that the three of you have enjoyed a jovial & restful new year in the grace of our Lord.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Lyon

South Hadley, July 2, 1845

Catherine Beecher

My dear Catherine,

The recent visit which you & your pupils graced us with has left the women of Mt. Holyoke aflutter with excitement. Enclosed pleased find the list of texts in Latin studies which you requested, as well as correspondence from several students who wish to hear from their new friends in Hartford.

It was such a pleasure to hear your Miss Dean speak on matters of pedagogy. I do believe the European models are in need of refurbishment, & what a joy to find ourselves in good company in the endeavor.

Affectionately yours,


Writer’s Note

Mary Lyon was a pioneer in women’s higher education, founding one of the earliest “female Seminaries” aka women’s colleges in the U.S. (Totally still counts for the prompt). She had a friendship with Catherine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher) which, in my little fiction here, was cordial, but I’m not sure if it was always that way.

I read all of her letters, as collected by My. Holyoke, to get a reference on her voice. I lifted some lines directly (I especially liked “you know how it is with me and my time”– translation, I procrastinate). Also, what ever happened to make ampersands die away?

I had fun with the letter format. Maybe didn’t complete an actual narrative arc, but I enjoyed the practice with a dated dialect.

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