Mount Holyoke College, Mary Lyon Hall, Massachusetts, women's colleges, via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Lyon Hall, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, circa 1908.

This article is part of a series of women’s college features written by L. N. Holmes. 

Driving an hour and a half west of Harvard to the town of South Hadley, one might stumble upon historic Mount Holyoke College. The institution has a reputation for women’s education and empowerment. An all-female liberal arts college, Mount Holyoke has deep roots in the suffrage movement.

As one of the Seven Sisters — elite, East Coast women’s colleges rivaling the male-dominated ivy league — Mount Holyoke College was founded on the idea that women had a right to higher education. Founder Mary Lyon overcame tremendous financial and social adversity to create an establishment that would eventually garner much respect from the educational community. In time, this idea of intellectual independence fueled support for the suffrage movement.

Established before the 19th amendment was ratified, Mount Holyoke College attracted many suffragettes. According to Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, in the early 1900s, “Not every woman’s college was a hotbed of suffragism, but Mount Holyoke was. The faculty was nothing but ‘rank suffragists,’ one student said.” Mary Woolley, president of the school during that time, spoke at the National American Woman Suffrage convention in Baltimore and founded the National College Equal Suffrage League. Other powerful women such as Emily Dickinson, Frances Perkins, Gloria Johnson-Powell, Elizabeth Holloway, and Priscilla Painton graduated from the college.

In modern times, the Mount Holyoke College community grapples with what it means to be a feminist. According to PBS, Mount Holyoke became the second women’s college in the nation to accept transgender prospective students. The school made international headlines when Project: Theatre canceled its production of “The Vagina Monologues” because students didn’t find it included the trans community (according to Huff Post and the New York Daily News). This brought heated debates over gender identity and sexuality. Currently, a gender studies program is offered at the school.

From left, Sophie Nguyn ‘17 and Mai Huynh ‘17/Photo courtesy of Reagan Brown and Humans of Mount Holyoke College
From left, Sophie Nguyn ‘17 and Mai Huynh ‘17/ photo via Reagan Brown and Humans of Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College, like many other colleges around the nation, also struggles with applying the ideas of equality. Hate crimes against religious students have been reported in the Mount Holyoke News. Issues such as racism receive more widespread awareness and action

Some students complain about a lack of social life and events. Also, while the college was founded on the ideas of economic equality, students now must pay $42,470 per year for tuition alone.

Mount Holyoke student, senior, women's colleges
A senior student at Mount Holyoke College/ photo via Cassidy Anthony and Humans of Mount Holyoke College

For the education at Mount Holyoke College, the price might be worth it to some prospective students. The school offers small classes and 50 majors, with the option to design your own major. The college has a variety of programs, especially in the sciences and geographic and language studies. There are also Five Colleges certificate programs where students may share knowledge and resources with Amherst College, Smith College, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Hampshire College.

Mount Holyoke offers many ways for current students to get involved. More than 150 student organizations are active on campus. Everything from volleyball and basketball to rowing and squash are offered among the athletics — with 13 official teams and 6 club teams. Traditions like FebruMary and Pangy Day are unique to the college, and the school also offers a Taboo dialogue series encouraging students to talk about tough topics.

Mount Holyoke College has a proud history that draws intellectuals of all ages. If you are considering a college to attend, and the programs and history of Mount Holyoke appeal to you, then it might be a great place to consider for continuing your education.

4 Replies to “Suffrage, Empowerment, and Education at Mount Holyoke College”

Leave a Reply