Historical Notes: Mount Holyoke College & Elizabeth Storrs Mead

At Mount Holyoke College, Elizabeth Storrs Mead became the first women College president in 1890. Information on the relationship between the institution and the woman.

Elizabeth Storrs Mead was a leading educator in nineteenth century America. She was the wife of Rev. Hiram Mead, who served at Oberlin College. She herself is best known as the first president of Mount Holyoke Seminary and College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Storrs Billings on May 21, 1832 in Conway, Massachusetts. Her mother was the sister of Rev. Richard S. Storrs, D.D. and her father was Col. Charles E. Billings, so it is evident she came from the best New England stock.

Elizabeth received her education as a young woman at the Seminary of Mr. and Mrs. Cowles at Ipswich, Massachusetts. After graduating she entered in to the occupation of teaching. For six years she worked with her sister in conducting a private school for young ladies at Andover, Massachusetts.

In 1858 Elizabeth married Rev. Hiram Mead, D.D. and moved with him to South Hadley, for his first pastorate. South Hadley was also the seat of Mount Holyoke Seminary. Mount Holyoke Seminary was founded by Mary Lyons as a school for girls. Though Miss Lyons had passed away about ten years before Elizabeth moved here, the Seminary still represented her ideals and hopes for the education of women. Mr. Mead was soon elected to the Board of Trustees of the school.

After ten years in South Hadley, Hiram and Elizabeth accepted a call to Nashua, New Hampshire and two years later Hiram was called to Oberlin Theological Seminary. At Oberlin, Hiram was professor of Sacred Rhetoric and Pastoral Theology for twelve years. For part of that time he also served as acting pastor of the Second Congregational Church. During much of this time, Elizabeth was doing some teaching in connection with the College. It was here that Hiram died and Elizabeth then turned again professionally to teaching to support herself and her two children, Alice and George Herbert. She spent two years at Oberlin and six years at Abbot Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. She became widely known as a fine instructor, with remarkable ability. She was promoted to Associate Principal at Abott Academy where she remained for a few years, then she made an extensive tour of Europe. While she was in Europe, she received a call to the presidency of Mount Holyoke Seminary. After much deliberation, and with the understanding that full college conditions should be allowed, Elizabeth accepted the call.

Elizabeth entered upon her duties as president of Mount Holyoke in 1890. After she became president, the school saw tremendous growth. Her noble personality and wise leadership was a great asset to the institution. Along with the work already done before her and so earnest was the student body, that in three years with Mrs. Mead at the helm, Mount Holyoke was granted a full college charter by the state. Elizabeth worked diligently in those "transition" years for the healthful development of the school. Because of her constant labor on behalf of the College, Mount Holyoke was recognized as worthy place among New England Colleges.

Mount Holyoke has had an honorable history, filling a unique place in our American educational life. A pioneer in an almost untried field, it has had many followers. Elizabeth Storrs Mead help this institution reach its potential.

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