Hostname: page-component-59f8fd8595-gtxf7 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-22T02:41:16.594Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

“Castle of Science”: Mount Holyoke College and the Preparation of Women in Chemistry, 1837–1941

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Carole B. Shmurak
Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Conn.
Bonnie S. Handler
Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Conn.


When Lucy Goodale, Mount Holyoke Seminary Class of 1841, wrote home to her parents, she called the seminary her “castle of science.” She could not have known how apt that phrase would become in the next hundred years; she knew only that the chemistry course she was taking, part of a seven-science sequence, was full of “miracles.” Nonetheless, Lucy Goodale's “castle” would become a citadel for women in science; a college that would produce more women who went on for doctorates in the physical sciences from 1910 to 1969, more women who obtained doctorates in chemistry from 1920 to 1980, and more women listed in the 1938 American Men of Science than any other undergraduate institution. Additionally, during the years 1927—41, it would be twice as productive in publishing chemical research as any other liberal arts college (coeducational or single-sex) in the country. Besides exploring how Mount Holyoke Seminary, later Mount Holyoke College, achieved this remarkable record, this paper also examines M. Elizabeth Tidball's hypothesis, that the higher the ratio of women of accomplishment present in a college environment, the more likely the college is to produce women graduates who proceed to postcollege accomplishment themselves, particularly in nontraditional fields like the sciences. Additionally, we demonstrate the attempts at what is today referred to as “networking” that began early in Mount Holyoke's history and continued into the present century. Differences between the generations of women scientists at the college will also be explored.

Copyright © 1992 by the History of Education Society 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Lucy Goodale letters, 1838, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives, South Hadley, Mass.

2 Elizabeth Tidball, M. and Kistiakowsky, Vera, “Baccalaureate Origins of American Scientists and Scholars,” Science 193 (20 Aug. 1976): 646–52; Hall, Alfred E., “Baccalaureate Origins of Doctorate Recipients in Chemistry, 1920–1980,” Journal of Chemical Education 62 (12 May 1985): 406–8; Rossiter, Margaret W., Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Baltimore, 1982), 146; Sampey, John R., “Chemical Research in Liberal-Arts Colleges,” Journal of Higher Education 20 (Apr. 1949): 208–10.

Google Scholar

3 Elizabeth Tidball, M., “Perspective on Academic Women and Affirmative Action,” Educational Record 54 (Spring 1973): 130–35.

Google Scholar

4 Prospectus of Mount Holyoke, 1835. Mount Holyoke College Library Archives

5 Lyon, Mary, “Female Education,” 1839, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives; Cole, Arthur C., A Hundred Years of Mount Holyoke College: The Evolution of an Educational Ideal (New Haven, Conn., 1940), 63; Green, Elizabeth Alden, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke: Opening the Gates (Hanover, N.H., 1979); Stow, Sarah D., History of Mount Holyoke Seminary: South Hadley, Mass.: During Its First Half Century (South Hadley, Mass., 1887), 147.

6 Lydia Shattuck chemistry notebooks, 1860, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

7 Eliot, Charles W. and Storer, Frank H., Manual of Inorganic Chemistry (Boston, 1861.

8 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 78.

9 Barker, George F., A Text-book of Elementary Chemistry, Theoretical and Inorganic (New Haven, Conn., 1870).

10 Carr, Emma P., “The Department of Chemistry: Historical Sketch,” Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly 2 (Oct. 1918): 159–65.

Google Scholar

11 Handler, Bonnie S. and Shmurak, Carole B., “Rigor, Resolve, Religion: Mary Lyon and Science Education,” Teaching Education 3 (Winter/Spring 1991): 137–42; Shmurak, Carole B. and Handler, Bonnie S., “Lydia Shattuck: ‘A Streak of the Modern’,” Teaching Education 3 (Winter/Spring 1991): 127–31.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 8; “Mount Holyoke Alumnae in Medicine and Science.” 19251, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

13 Eells, Walter C., “Earned Doctorates for Women in the Nineteenth Century.” Bulletin of the AAUP 42 (Winter 1956): 644–51.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14 Catalog of Smith College, 1875.

15 Data for Tables 1 and 2 were derived from the catalogs of the five colleges for the years listed.

16 Linden Hall remains the oldest girls' boarding school in continuous existence today. See Handler, Bonnie S., “The Schooling of ‘Unmarried Sisters’: Linden Hall and the Moravian Educational Tradition, 1853–1940” (Ed.D. diss., The Pennsylvania State University, 1980).

Google Scholar

17 A.B.Litt. degree was added in 1891. As it required more classical studies and less mathematics and science, it enabled the last seminary students to be absorbed into a college program. By 1902, the college would confer only a B.A. degree, regardless of the curriculum chosen. Entrance requirements for the program would be the same for all students. Smith and Wellesley had also awarded the B.S. and B.A. degrees. Wellesley discontinued the B.S. in 1894, and Smith did so in 1904.

18 Presidential Report, 1893, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

19 Shea, Charlotte King, “Mount Holyoke College, 1875–1910: The Passing of the Old Order” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1983), 34.

Google Scholar

20 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 146–47.

21 Carr, , “Department of Chemistry,” 162.

22 Presidential Report, 1894, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

23 Mead, Elizabeth Storrs, widow of the Reverend Hiram Mead, South Hadley pastor and board member of Mount Holyoke, 1859–73, was educated at Ipswich Academy. Her teaching experience included schools at Northampton and Andover, two years at Oberlin College, and six years at Abbot Academy, Andover.

24 Springfield Union, clipping, unpaged, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

25 Presidential Report, 1896, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

26 Carr, , “Department of Chemistry,” 162.

27 Obituary of Nellie Goldthwaite, New York Times, 26 Nov. 1946, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

28 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 5172.

29 Goldthwaite, Nellie, “Potatoes from the Householder's Standpoint,” Home Economics Research Laboratory, Colorado Agricultural College, Bulletin 297, 1925, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

Google Scholar

30 Leach, Mary Frances to Goldthwaite, Nellie, 5 June 1897, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

31 Pickett, Lucy W., interview with author, 29 May 1990. A tape of this interview is in the Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

32 Carr, , “Department of Chemistry,” 162.

33 Pickett, Lucy W., “The History of the Chemistry Department, Mount Holyoke College,” 1937, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives; Sherrill, Mary L., “The Chemistry Program at Shattuck Hall,” Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly 35 (May 1951): 1–4.

Google Scholar

34 Perkins, Frances, chemistry notebooks, 1899–1902, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

35 The Mount Holyoke, Inaugural Issue (1901), 911.

36 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 1920.

37 Carr, Emma P. to Stieglitz, Julius, 5 July 1926, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

38 Pickett, interview.

39 Carr, Emma P., “Chemical Education in American Institutions: Mount Holyoke College,” Journal of Chemical Education 25 (Jan. 1948): 1115.

CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 Pickett, interview.

41 Carr, , “Chemical Education,” 13.

42 Pickett, interview.

43 Sherrill, Mary to Carr, , 8 July 1926, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

44 Carr, to Woolley, Mary, 22 Mar. 1934; Woolley, to Carr, , 26 Mar. 1934, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

45 Carr, , “Chemical Education,” 13; Hall, , “Baccalaureate Origins,” 407. Ninety-three may sound like a small number, but female Ph.D. chemists are rare. The institution that ranks second is the University of Michigan, which produced 58 female Ph.D. chemists in the same period (1920–80). Compare this to the leader in producing male Ph.D. chemists, the University of Illinois, which educated 1056 male Ph.D. chemists during this time. Also compare Smith College with 29, Wellesley with 28, and Swarthmore with 17 female Ph.D. chemists.

46 Enrollment had so increased during these years that the chemistry building was literally bulging at the seams. In order to accommodate the students, the roof of Shattuck Hall was raised. When in 1951, its keystone and facade collapsed, a new chemistry building was finally built.

47 Rossiter, , Women Scientists, 2122. Female scientists contributed most to the war effort in home economics, a field that had already been feminized and considered “women's work” prior to the war. Many women's colleges expanded their home economics programs to include courses in nutrition and the preparation of food. Mount Holyoke trained health inspectors in principles of hygiene for the maintenance of health standards in government factories and munition plants.

48 Presidential Report, 1929, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

49 Data from One Hundred Year Biographical Directory of Mount Holyoke College. 1857–1937 … (South Hadley, Mass., 1937), and individual alumnae files, Mount Holyoke College Library Archives.

50 Stein, Eleanor M.D. (Mount Holyoke College, Class of 1924), interview with author, 17 Aug. 1990.

51 Baker, Liva, I'm Radcliffe. Fly Metz. The Seven Systems and the Failure of Women', New York. 1976, 156.

52 Ibid., 166.

53 The founders of Smith College explicitly rejected the strong female faculty–student bond that the female seminary structure promoted. See Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (New York, 1984), 45.