Articles by Ann Woodbury Moore
16 Oct 2006
|by Ann Woodbury Moore
In September 1847, when Emily Dickinson was almost seventeen,
she left home to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South
Hadley, Massachusetts. Its founder, Mary Lyon (1797-1849),
wished to "save women from ignorance" by making
education available to all segments of society.
In a letter to her friend Abiah Root, written on November 6,
1847, Dickinson described life at Mount Holyoke.
"I room with my Cousin Emily," she wrote. The
seminary was a single large building, with students' rooms on
the upper floors. Each eighteen- by ten-foot room was furnished
with beds, a table and chairs, a chest of drawers, bookshelves,
a washstand and mirror, rugs, whale-oil lamps, and a Franklin
Letters written to her friend Abiah Root provide a glimpse
of Dickinson's day-to-day life as a young girl.
Dickinson attended the
Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley,
Massachusetts for one year. In 1888, the seminary was
renamed Mount Holyoke College.
"At 6 o'clock, we all rise.
We breakfast at 7. Our study hours begin at 8. At 9 we all meet
in Seminary Hall for devotions." Classes and music practice
were held before and after dinner, the main meal of the day,
served at 12:30. "At 41/2 [4:30] we . . . receive advice
from Miss Lyon in the form of a lecture. We have Supper at 6 and
silent study hours from then until the retiring bell, which
rings at 8 3/4 [8:45]." The "tardy bell" rang at
|"At 3 3/4 [3:45]
I go to Sections, where we give in all our accounts for the day,
including, Absence--Tardiness--Communications--Breaking Silent
Study hours--Receiving Company in our rooms and ten thousand
other things." This "self-reporting" system
required students to monitor their behavior and report any
violations to their section teacher.
"My domestic work is not difficult and consists in
carrying the Knives from the 1st tier of tables at morning and
noon and at night washing and wiping the same." All
seminary students spent an hour each day doing chores. This kept
fees low, eliminated the need for servants, and promoted
|"I am . . . reviewing the
Junior studies, as I wish to enter the middle class." Mount
Holyoke had a three-year curriculum. Subjects included English
grammar and literature, geography, history, economics, algebra,
geometry, chemistry, physics, astronomy, botany, physiology,
philosophy, Latin, and religion. Students also were required to
walk one mile a day and do calisthenics.
"Father has decided not to send me to Holyoke another
year, so this is my last term," Dickinson wrote to Root on
May 16, 1848. Only one-third of Mount Holyoke students returned
each year, and only one in ten graduated. The reasons included
poor health, insufficient funds, homesickness, marriage, and
lack of interest. Although it is not clear what Dickinson's
specific reasons were for leaving the seminary, in August 1848
she returned home to Amherst, Massachusetts.
Although Dickinson resisted Mary Lyon's
religious teachings at the seminary, she probably took to heart
Lyon's belief that "we have great power over ourselves. We
may become almost what we will."
Originally published in COBBLESTONE'S March 1995 issue, page 9. Copyright COBBLESTONE
Publishing 1995, 1999. All rights reserved.
Reprinted in Riverside Publishing's Massachusetts Custom
Extender pilot test, and its 1999 achievement reading tests in
the Spanish language. Reprinted in the Oklahoma
Operational test booklets published by CTB/McGraw-Hill.
Reprinted in the Alaska Comprehensive System of Student
Assessment (CSSA) 2004 Field Test booklet, published by Data