Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College, at South Hadley, Mass.; for women; chartered 1836, opened 1837 as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary under Mary Lyon, rechartered as Mount Holyoke College 1893. There is a noteworthy art museum on campus. Mount Holyoke participates in an educational consortium with Amherst, Smith, and Hampshire colleges and the Univ. of Massachusetts.

See A. C. Cole, A Hundred Years of Mount Holyoke College (1940).

Mount Holyoke College is a liberal arts women's college in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Originally founded by Mary Lyon as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary on 8 November, 1837, it is the "first of the Seven Sisters and is "the oldest continuing institution of higher education for women in the world." Mount Holyoke is part of the Pioneer Valley's Five Colleges, along with Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Mount Holyoke has a student population of 2,100. Students come from "48 states and nearly 70 countries. One in three students is an international citizen or African American, Asian American, Latina, Native American, or multiracial. Thirty-three percent of incoming first-year students were in the top five percent of their high school classes". It has been part of the SAT optional movement for undergraduate admission since 2001.

Mount Holyoke is a leader in producing Fulbright scholars. It also counts among its alumnae recipients of the Churchill, Datatel, Congress-Bundestag, Goldwater, Rhodes,Gates Cambridge, and Marshall scholarships and fellowships. The most popular graduate schools attended by MHC alumnae are Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Tufts, Penn, Stanford, Berkeley, and Georgetown. Students looking for work directly after graduation have "direct access to 1300+ corporations and organizations" such as New York Metropolitan Opera, ESPN, MTV, NPR, Google, Microsoft, Teach For America, Goldman Sachs, Peace Corps, Harvard University (health/medicine), Smithsonian, Boston Globe, Disney Publishers, and the National Economic Research Associates.

Named after nearby Mount Holyoke, it is a member of the Pioneer Valley's Five Colleges Consortium, the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges, the Annapolis Group, and the Oberlin Group. It was a part of the The New College Plan. It is currently a part of The Consortium on Financing Higher Education and The Knowledge Corridor.

Notable people


The main article provides a list of individuals associated with Mount Holyoke through attending as a student, or serving as a member of the faculty or staff.

Campus and student life

On and off campus

The campus was designed and landscaped between 1896 and 1922 by the landscape architecture firm of Olmsted and Sons. Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City and Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, New York (among other notable outdoor projects). In addition to the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden, the grounds feature two lakes, several waterfalls, tennis courts, stables and woodland riding trails, all surrounding Skinner Green (the grassy lawn in the center of campus). Skinner Green is framed by traditional ivy-covered, brownstone Neo-Gothic dormitories, Skinner Hall and the social hub, Blanchard Student Center. The campus is also home to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum which is part of the Five College Museums/Historic Deerfield and the Museums10.

Mount Holyoke's independent bookstore, The Odyssey Bookshop, resides directly across from the campus in the college-owned Village Commons. In 2007, The Odyssey Bookshop was mentioned in a The New York Times article which argued that the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, is the "most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place in" the United States.

A little further away (and accessible by the five college bus) lie the towns of Amherst and Northampton. The Hampshire Mall and Holyoke Mall also offer shopping and entertainment for students. The Mount Holyoke Range State Park is also close to the campus.

WMHC (91.5 FM) is a radio station licensed to serve South Hadley, Massachusetts. The station is owned by Mount Holyoke College and licensed to the Trustees of Mount Holyoke.

Campus atmosphere

The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2008, published by the Yale Daily News and based upon student interviews, states that the atmosphere of the college "foster[s] strong bonds among the women of Mount Holyoke." The social life of students varies between "hanging out with friends" on campus or gravitating "off campus if they are looking for a party or members of the opposite sex. Many Mount Holyokers will leave during the weekends to visit boyfriends elsewhere. UMass and Amherst are popular destinations for fraternity parties." The campus is described as "very friendly and students are easy to get to know, as many students interviewed found that being among all women makes for a more comfortable, accepting atmosphere on the whole, both in and out of class. The campus is also incredibly diverse on all ethnic and socioeconomic levels and although cliques do emerge, there is always a good level of interaction among the collective student body." Also according to the guide, "Mount Holyokers are also 'fairly open' to all sexual orientations and relationships." Howard Greene and Matthew Greene interviewed Mount Holyoke students for their text, Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence. One student stated that while at Mount Holyoke, she was "inspired by the vibrant community of women and felt very comfortable." Another student stated that, "Mount Holyoke, for the first time in many women's lives, enables women to stand up as individuals and speak their mind, accomplish amazing feats, and excel in all areas of their lives.

Mount Holyoke also attracts a large international population as indicated in a June 03 2008 article in The New York Times. The article discussed the move by women's colleges in the United States such as Mount Holyoke to promote their schools in the middle east. The article noted that in doing so, the schools promote the work of graduates of women's colleges such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Diane Sawyer, Katharine Hepburn and Madeleine K. Albright. The Dean of Admissions of Bryn Mawr College noted, "We still prepare a disproportionate number of women scientists [...] We’re really about the empowerment of women and enabling women to get a top-notch education." The article also contrasted the difference between women's colleges in the Middle East and "the American colleges [which] for all their white-glove history and academic prominence, are liberal strongholds where students fiercely debate political action, gender identity and issues like “heteronormativity,” the marginalizing of standards that are other than heterosexual. Middle Eastern students who already attend these colleges tell of a transition that can be jarring."

There are also resources for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students on campus. Athletics director Laurie Priest noted in an interview that as "statistics say that about 10 percent of the population is gay or lesbian" it is important to offer support. The Princeton Review rates Mount Holyoke fifth among its "Top 20 Gay Friendly Colleges". In addition, an April 07 2007 article in the Boston Globe noted that, "both Mt. Holyoke, in South Hadley, and its rival school, Smith College in Northampton, cultivate what transgender students say is an open and accepting environment that allows them to find their true selves." The article also notes that Mount Holyoke has a student run group, True Colors which "arranges movie nights, mixers, and panel discussions and seminars for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students." However, some students and alumnae feel that acceptance of transgender students at Mount Holyoke is a betrayal of the foundational principles of their alma mater and that admitting "transmale" students is, in effect, a way of “passively going coed” and that the “lifestyle choices” of these students was a bald negation of a women’s college charter. Although Mount Holyoke only considers female applicants for admission, it will award diplomas to transgendered students who become male or identify themselves as male by the time they complete their studies. To reflect this fact, in 2005 Mount Holyoke amended its constitution so that the word "she" was replaced with "student.

Academics, admissions, and athletics

Mount Holyoke offers a number of special programs. It has a dual-degree program in engineering which allows students to earn a B.A. from Mount Holyoke and a B.S. from the California Institute of Technology, the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, or UMass. Students interested in Public Health can earn a B.A. from Mount Holyoke and an M.S. from the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst the year after graduating from Mount Holyoke. It also offers the Frances Perkins Program for non-traditional students and has a number of programs for international students.

In addition to classes at the college, Mount Holyoke students may also enroll in courses at Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College, and University of Massachusetts Amherst through the Five Colleges Consortium.

Mount Holyoke offers a number of college athletics programs and is a member of NERC (the New England Rowing Conference) and of NEWMAC (the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference). Mount Holyoke is also home to a professional golf course, The Orchards, which served as host to the U.S. Women's Open Championship in 2004.


Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (1837-1888)

Early proponents of education for women were Sarah Pierce (Litchfield Female Academy, 1792); Catharine Beecher (Hartford Female Seminary, 1823); Zilpah P. Grant Banister (Ipswich Female Seminary, 1828); and Mary Lyon. Lyon was involved in the development of both Hartford Female Seminary and Ipswich Female Seminary. She was also involved in the creation of Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College, Massachusetts) in 1834. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was chartered as a teaching seminary in 1836 and opened its doors to students on 8 November, 1837. Both Vassar College and Wellesley College were patterned after Mount Holyoke.

Lyon was an educational innovator who created a highly rigorous environment of higher education for women which was unusual for the early 19th century. Lyon mandated a 16 hour day for students at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which began at 5 a.m. and ended at 9:15 p.m. In addition, "the books used by the students were the same as used at men's colleges". Lyon was also an innovator in science education for women, requiring:

seven courses in the sciences and mathematics for graduation, a requirement unheard of at other female seminaries. She introduced women to "a new and unusual way" to learn science—laboratory experiments which they performed themselves. She organized field trips on which students collected rocks, plants, and specimens for lab work, and inspected geological formations and recently discovered dinosaur tracks.

Lyon, an early believer in the importance of daily exercise for women, required her students to "walk one mile (1.6 km) after breakfast. During New England's cold and snowy winters, she dropped the requirement to 45 minutes. Calisthenics—a form of exercises—were taught by teachers in unheated hallways until a storage area was cleared for a gymnasium. Domestic work often involved strenuous physical activity".

From its founding in 1837, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary "had no religious affiliation". However, "students were required to attend church services, chapel talks, prayer meetings, and Bible study groups. Twice a day teachers and students spent time in private devotions. Every dorm room had two large lighted closets to give roommates privacy during their devotions". Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was the sister school to Andover Seminary. Some Andover graduates looked to marry students from the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before becoming missionaries because the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) required its missionaries to be married before starting their missions. By 1859, there were more than 60 missionary alumnae; by 1887, the school's alumnae comprised one fifth of all female American missionaries for the ABCFM; and by the end of the century, 248 of its alumnae had entered the mission field.

Mount Holyoke, 1888-Present

Mount Holyoke Female Seminary received its collegiate charter in 1888 and became Mount Holyoke Seminary and College. It became Mount Holyoke College in 1893. Mount Holyoke's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established in 1905.

In the early 1970s, Mount Holyoke engaged in a lengthy debate under the presidency of David Truman over the issue of coeducation. On 6 November 1971, "after reviewing an exhaustive study on coeducation, the board of trustees decided unanimously that Mount Holyoke should remain a women's college, and a group of faculty was charged with recommending curricular changes that would support the decision.

On February 28, 1987, the United States Postal Service's Great Americans Series issued a postage stamp featuring Mary Lyon in honor of Mount Holyoke's Sesquicentennial (Mount Holyoke's 150th anniversary).

The home of Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge, known as ‘Sycamores’, served as a dormitory for the college from 1915-1970. The mansion, built in 1788 by Colonel Woodbridge, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Woodbridge was a doctor, a colonel of the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolutionary War, and a member of the Massachusetts legislature for many years.

Influence of Mount Holyoke

According to the United States Department of Education, "Mount Holyoke’s significance is that it became a model for a multitude of other women’s colleges throughout the country. Both Vassar College and Wellesley College were patterned after Mount Holyoke. Western Female Seminary was a daughter school. Alumnae have also had an impact on other schools: Susan Tolman Mills was the co-founder and first president of Mills College; Ada Howard was the first president of Wellesley College; and Abbie Park Ferguson was the founder of Huguenot College. Three alumnae are current college presidents: Elaine Tuttle Hansen (Bates College), Nancy J. Vickers (Bryn Mawr College) and Helen Drinan (Simmons College (Massachusetts))

A few historically black schools were also influenced by Mount Holyoke. Mount Hermon Female Seminary was founded by alumna Sarah Ann Dickey and patterned after Mount Holyoke. Scotia Seminary (now coeducational Barber-Scotia College) was modeled after Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and was referred to as The Mount Holyoke of the South. Spelman College's fourth president was Mount Holyoke alumna Florence M. Read and its current president, Beverly Daniel Tatum, taught at Mount Holyoke for thirteen years and served as its Acting President in 2002.

Women's Christian College in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India has been Mount Holyoke's "Sister School" since 1920; it has an event called the Mount Holyoke Culturals and has a dormitory called the Mount Holyoke Hostel.


Readings and performances

The Intercollegiate Poetry Contest, The Kathryn Irene Glascock Awards, grants The Glascock Prize to the winner of this annual event (which has taken place at Mount Holyoke since 1924). The "invitation-only competition is sponsored by the English department at Mount Holyoke and counts many well-known poets, including Sylvia Plath and James Merrill, among its past winners".

The Faculty Show takes place once every four years, around 1 April faculty members create a show which parodies themselves and their students.

The Junior Show (also known as J-Show) refers to a show created by Juniors (and a few professors) who parody life at Mount Holyoke. A common feature is a sketch mocking the president and dean of the college, along with well-known professors.

Annual events

Mountain Day begins with the sound of ringing bells from Abbey Chapel on a beautiful autumn morning secretly chosen by the President of the College and all classes are canceled for the day and many students hike to the summit of nearby Mount Holyoke.

M&C's was originally called Milk & Crackers, but is now referred to as Milk & Cookies. It refers to a nightly snack provided by dormitory dining halls. M&Cs also refer to a popular student a cappella group, M&Cs (Milk and Cookies)

The following traditions are organized by the Class Boards of each year.

Big/Little Sister is a reference to the pairing of juniors and firsties (or first-years) who are paired up to take part in organized—and unorganized—events together. Coordinated by the Junior Class board

Disorientation or "Dis-O," is a closely guarded secret. This event is organized by the Senior Class Board.

Elfing refers to sophomores who secretly leave gifts for their chosen firsties or transfer students, usually during October of each year. Coordinated by the Sophomore Class Board.

Founder's Day is held on the Sunday closest to 8 November (the date of the opening of Mount Holyoke in 1837). It was begun by Elizabeth Storrs Mead in 1891. The current version of the tradition includes ice cream being served early in the morning near Mary Lyon's grave. The current President of the College and select faculty are invited to scoop ice cream for the Senior Class who dons their gowns.


Seniors dress in traditional cap and gown as well as accessories in their class color. Convocation marks the beginning of the academic year.


Canoe Sing is an event which takes place prior to commencement in which canoes are decorated with lanterns are paddled by seniors singing Mount Holyoke songs. They are joined by fellow graduating seniors on shore.

Baccalaureate is held in Abbey Chapel; the medieval German ode to Academe, "Gaudeamus Igitur" is sung by berobed Seniors and Faculty during the procession. Following convocation, Faculty line the path to Mary Lyon's grave. Seniors walk through this throng, to the grave (to place a wreath). As they pass by their professors, the Faculty members applaud the Seniors—thereby acknowledging them for the first time as scholars and colleagues.

The Laurel Parade takes place the day before commencement. Graduating seniors wear white and carry laurel garlands, in a parade to Mary Lyon's grave. They are escorted by approximately 3,000 alumnae, also in white, who thereby welcome them into the Alumnae Association. Once at Mary Lyon's grave, the garland is wound around the cast-iron fence, and the Mimi Farina song "Bread and Roses" is sung by all in attendance. White is a tribute to those who fought for women's suffrage.

Mount Holyoke in literature, theater, film, and television

Mount Holyoke is referenced in works of theater, film, and popular culture. Pulitzer Prize – winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein's 1977 play, Uncommon Women and Others, is based upon Wasserstein's experiences at Mount Holyoke of the early 1970s. The play explores the lives of the fictional characters Carter, Holly, Kate, Leilah, Rita, Muffet, Samantha, and Susie.

Two well-known films reference Mount Holyoke of the 1960s. The first is the 1987 film Dirty Dancing which is set at a country club in the summer of 1963. The protagonist Frances "Baby" Houseman (named after Mount Holyoke graduate Frances Perkins) plans to attend Mount Holyoke in the fall to study economics and then to later enter the Peace Corps. The second is the 1978 film National Lampoon's Animal House which is set in 1962. It satirizes a common practice up until the mid-1970s, when women attending Seven Sister colleges were connected with or to students at Ivy League schools. In the film, fraternity brothers from Delta house of the fictional Faber College (based on Dartmouth College) take a road trip to the fictional Emily Dickinson College (Mount Holyoke College).

One of the most famous references to Mount Holyoke College in American popular culture occurred in I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can, an episode of The Simpsons: "The Seven Sisters were immortalized in popular culture in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons. Having won local and state spelling bees, Lisa Simpson advances to the national finals. However, the moderator, concerned about the contest’s low television ratings, offers Lisa free tuition ('and a hot plate') at the Seven Sisters college of her choice if she will allow a more popular contestant (who happens to be a boy) to win. Lisa refuses, but has a dream in which students from each of the Seven Sisters appear to her.

Additional characters in popular culture include "Emily" from the television series Empty Nest, "Donna," from the television series Judging Amy, "Judy Maxwell," from the film, What's Up, Doc?, "Brooke," from The L Word, Season 4, and "Catherine," the serial bride in the film noir release, Black Widow (1987 film).

References to Mount Holyoke also occur in a few works. Mount Holyoke was mentioned in television series, House, in an episode from Season 4. In David Liss's 2006 novel, The Ethical Assassin, Chitra—the love interest of the protagonist Lem Altick—is saving money so that she may attend Mount Holyoke. Alan Arkin, the father of the bride in the 1979 film The In-Laws, mutters when he sees the squalor-filled office of Peter Falk (the father of the groom), "Four years at Mount Holyoke so she could marry into this." Finally, Mount Holyoke is mentioned frequently in Neil Simon's play, Broadway Bound.


Further reading

External links

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