Originally founded as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 by Mary Lyon, Mount Holyoke is the first of the Seven Sister colleges and the oldest continuing women’s educational institution in the United States. The school paved the way in female education, and continues to be a leader today.
Mary Lyon was a teacher from Massachusetts who aspired to give young women access to the same quality education available to their male peers. She opened Mount Holyoke as a female seminary and named it after a mountain near South Hadley, MA where the school is located. Lyon’s fundraising abilities ensured that the school was endowed for the benefit of future generations. From its inception, entrance requirements were rigorous and the curriculum, with its emphasis on science and math as well as the humanities, was incredibly innovative in female education for the time.
In 1861 the seminary’s three-year program was expanded to four, and in 1893 the seminary curriculum eliminated and the seminary became Mount Holyoke College. The school established a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1905. In the 1970’s there was discussion of making the college coed, but it was ultimately decided that it would remain a school for women. In 1987 a postage stamp honoring Mary Lyon was introduced.
Built on a series of hills, Mount Holyoke is an 800-acre, quintessentially New England campus. Most buildings date from the early 20th Century and are ivy-covered and Neo-Gothic in influence. There are two lakes, several waterfalls, tennis courts, stables, and wooded riding trails.
The center of campus is Skinner Green, a grassy lawn that Mt. Holyoke students cut across to get to class, and enjoy sunning themselves on when the weather is warm. The most desirable dorms are the ones “on the green,” with windows that overlook Skinner Green. The clock tower of Mary Lyon Hall, named after the school’s founder, towers over the campus with its Roman numerals and pointy peak.
Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the 800-acre Central Park in New York City, also landscaped the campus, and the abundance of trees makes for a picturesque backdrop, especially in the fall, when the leaves change color.
Mount Holyoke is located in South Hadley, a quiet town in the Pioneer Valley. It is a charmingly historical town, rich in culture. Museums, concert halls, and art galleries surround the area, and the other schools in the Pioneer Valley Five School Consortium – Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Hampshire – are also nearby. The PVTA, a free bus service for students, shuttles them around the five college area.
Mount Holyoke students like to venture to nearby Amherst for their dining options. Antonio’s Pizza Place is a favorite, along with Indian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants. Closer to home, the women of MHC like to frequent the Thirsty Mind, a coffee shop in the Village Commons that is great for studying, meeting with advisors, and enjoying a cup of Joe.
The town of Northampton is another option students have for nightlife, shopping, and movie theatres. It too is driving distance from campus. Boston is the closest big city in the area, approximately two hours away.
The women of Mount Holyoke love their traditions, especially the ones that involve one class with another. For instance “elfing” is a way that sophomores welcome first-years in their first few weeks at school. They leave little presents for their designated “firsties” each night for a week before they meet.
Mountain Day is special tradition that no one knows the day of until the bells of Abbey Chapel ring. Classes are then cancelled for the morning and students are encouraged to hike Mount Holyoke Mountain in Skinner State Park.
M & Cs, milk and crackers, is a residential hall tradition. Milk and crackers are provided as a study break and social hour a few nights a week.
A tradition between seniors and “firsties” is Dis-O, or disorientation, meant to foster school pride among new students. Seniors wear their academic robes, gather in the hallway of the uppermost floor of their residence hall and chant “Holyoke, Holyoke, Holyoke” while stomping their feet. When the “firsties” come out, they are given costumes to wear that distinguish them by hall. Everyone sings songs and participates in activities planned by the seniors. The week-long event finishes with a big party.
Dr. Virginia Apgar (1929) was the developer of Apgar score, an internationally recognized test for evaluating the health of newborns.
Emily Dickinson (1848) was a well-known poet.
Esther Howland (1847) was an artist noted for her role in popularizing Valentine’s Day cards.
Gloria Johnson-Powell (1958) is the first African American woman to be tenured at Harvard Medical School.
Audrey A. McNiff (1980) is a managing director and co-head of currency sales at Goldman Sachs and serves on Mount Holyoke’s Board of Trustees.
Frances Perkins (1902) served as secretary of labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and was the first woman to hold a presidential cabinet position.
Wendy Wasserstein (1971) is a Tony-, Obie-, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.
Mount Holyoke is an NCAA Division III school and a member of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, or NEWMAC. It offers 14 varsity teams and seven club sports teams. In the 2005-2006 season many MHC athletes were recognized for their outstanding achievements. The school boasted two All-Americans, seven All-Regions, three Academic All-Americans, one national riding title, six NEWMAC Players of the Week, 54 NEWMAC All-American honorees, and 18 NEWMAC All-Conference selections.
The Riding Team is one of the better-known programs on campus. In 2008 the Dressage Team earned the intercollegiate Dressage Association’s national championship award. Other varsity programs include basketball, crew, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, squash, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.
Mount Holyoke’s name pops up in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. Frances “Baby” Houseman (named after famous alumna Frances Perkins) plans to attend Mt. Holyoke in the fall to study economics and then enter the Peace Corps.
In a 2003 episode of the TV show The Simpsons, Lisa advances to the national finals of a spelling bee. She is offered free tuition and a ‘hot plate’ to the Seven Sisters College of her choice if she will lose the game on purpose to a more popular, male contestant.
One of Mt. Holyoke’s nicknames is “MoHo.”
MHC has a long-standing rivalry with fellow Five College and Seven Sister school Smith.
Students at Mount Holyoke live on campus for their entire college career. Residence halls are spread out in different areas across the campus.
Residence halls around the center of the college, known as the Skinner Green, are the most popular ones because of their convenient location and what students refer to as a “homey” environment. They are referred to as the dorms “on the green” and are close to classes, the library, and the student center. One of the most popular of these dorms is Mead Hall: newly renovated in the summer of 2006, it has carpeted floors, spacious hallways, well-furnished living rooms, and a kitchenette known as ‘the golden pear.’ Its only drawback is that it does not have a dining hall, and only serves continental breakfast.
Besides the green, more residence halls are scattered around the upper and lower lake. These are a little further away from classes and thus not as popular. Halls near the upper lake like Torrey, Ham, and McGregor are more popular than the ones near the lower lake because they are closer to Kendall, the sports and dance center. Athletes especially prefer to live in these halls. Ham and McGregor both have dining halls while Torrey provides hot breakfast and grab ‘n go lunch.
MHC’s newest residence hall, which is currently being built and will be ready for students to move into beginning the fall of 2008, is creating quite a buzz among students. Students refer to them as the North and South New Dorm. They are eco-friendly halls, and very spacious with sun rooms and suites.