Birthday luncheon remembers Mary Lyon as ‘a woman ahead of her time’

Marisca Pichette, a 2019 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, talks with Mount Holyoke College founder Mary Lyon, played by alumna Katherine McKay, at a birthday luncheon in honor of Lyon in Buckland on  Wednesday.

Marisca Pichette, a 2019 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, talks with Mount Holyoke College founder Mary Lyon, played by alumna Katherine McKay, at a birthday luncheon in honor of Lyon in Buckland on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Susan Samoriski, left, hosted a birthday luncheon in honor of Mary Lyon in her Buckland home on Wednesday.

Susan Samoriski, left, hosted a birthday luncheon in honor of Mary Lyon in her Buckland home on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2024 2:01 PM

Modified: 03-04-2024 3:21 PM


BUCKLAND — Renowned women’s education advocate Mary Lyon likely never would have expected that her hometown would continue to celebrate her legacy 227 years after her birth.

On Wednesday, a group of Mount Holyoke College alumnae and fellow admirers of Lyon gathered in Buckland to do just that, honoring her birthday and commemorating her profound influence.

Lyon, born on Putnam Hill in Buckland on Feb. 23, 1797, was a staunch advocate for women’s education. She taught at several local institutions and later established her own school for young women, the Buckland Winter School. Lyon taught subjects like geography, chemistry and religion before founding Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 with 80 students. The seminary evolved into Mount Holyoke College in 1893. From the outset, the curriculum included advanced classes in science and mathematics, with Lyon teaching chemistry, her favorite subject.

“Mary Lyon was a woman ahead of her time,” Susan Samoriski, host of the birthday celebration and founder of the Mary Lyon Foundation that supports education in western Franklin County towns, wrote in an event announcement. “She had a vision and followed her dream of educating young ladies.”

Lyon used innovative teaching methods such as field trips, laboratory experiments and lectures by prominent leaders in education.

“The name Mary Lyon became synonymous with excellence in education, and for that reason, when the Mary Lyon Foundation was established in 1990, it honored her name,” Samoriski continued.

Lyon, who was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993, died on March 5, 1849 from an illness she contracted while caring for sick students at Mount Holyoke, where she is buried.

This year, the celebratory luncheon took place at what is now known as the Mary Lyon House, where Lyon first organized her school. Up to 50 girls attended the Buckland Winter School. Lyon provided a distinguished curriculum that was previously available only to young men in higher learning institutions. When Lyon’s pupils outgrew the available seating, the school relocated to a nearby tavern.

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Two guests at the luncheon dressed as Mary Lyon and Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton, founder of Wheaton Female Seminary, later Wheaton College in Norton. They shared stories of these women’s historic contributions to education.

In particular, they emphasized that Mount Holyoke was not founded by a single donor; Lyon traveled to raise small sums from individuals, even inspiring poor farm women to contribute their spare change.

A special guest at the birthday luncheon was local author Marisca Pichette from South Deerfield, whose book of poetry, “Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair,” was released last April. The collection features 50 poems, half rooted in New England and western Massachusetts nature themes, and the other half taking a darker turn.

The first party celebrating Lyons’ birth came in 1997, the 200th anniversary, and was sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank. This year’s sponsors that provided the attendees’ gifts are Greenfield Savings Bank, Hilltown History LLC, Big Y, Dr. Hauschka cosmetics and the Mary Lyon House.

“Mary Lyon was the most wonderful woman,” Samoriski said in a toast at Wednesday’s lunch. “She was so unique, talented, the most innovative woman there ever was.”

Reach Bella Levavi
at 413-930-4579 or
blevavi@recorder.com.