Women’s History~Lucy Maynard Salmon


Lucy Maynard Salmon


Lucy Maynard Salmon, historian, researcher, author, educator, advocate of civil service reform, pacifist, internationalist, supporter of the League of Nations, suffragist and founding member of the American Historical Association, was born in Fulton, New York, on July 27, 1853. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1876 and a master’s degree from the same institution in 1883.

In 1887 Vassar College hired her to establish its history department and serve as Associate Professor of History. At the end of her second year she received a full professorship and remained there for the rest of her career until forced into retirement at age 70. Dr Salmon was a prolific writer, producing over a dozen books and over a hundred essays and public lectures. She rejected the traditional method of teaching history which emphasized mere memorization and recollection of facts about prominent figures and noted events. As a member of the new social history school, she believed that such methods overemphasized political histories, while dismissing other important aspects of the past. Instead, Dr Salmon encouraged scholarly independence by training her students to compare and criticize several interpretations before formulating their own conclusion and to consult primary source material in addition to secondary scholarship. Her courses were designed less to convey historical facts than to train students in the process of historical investigation. She taught her students how to judge and analyze sources and to produce independent work. Her courses emphasized the continuity and unity of history, insisting that “in weighing the merits of different fields of history as a subject of study the element of time in and of itself is the least important.” She and her friend Adelaide Underhill built extensive history holdings in the college library.

salmon with her class-a1dd575

Salmon with her students


An active and concerned citizen, every year Dr Salmon attempted to purchase a ticket for the public dinner of the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce and every year they denied her because she was a woman. She served as regent of the Poughkeepsie chapter of the Daughters of the American Republic, opening the first Poughkeepsie playground in 1909. Her success finally prompted the Chamber of Commerce to appoint her to a committee to “Clean up Poughkeepsie”. She served on the National College Equal Suffrage League and on the Executive Advisory Council of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, leading the suffrage movement at Vassar, despite the disapproval of the trustees and of the college’s male president Not until 1914 did the faculty grant students permission to form an on-campus suffrage club. Dr Salmon died in Poughkeepsie on February 14, 1927.

early vassar campus-view

For more information about her, in addition to her own voluminous work, see, Go to the Sources: Lucy Maynard Salmon and the Teaching of History (2004) by Chara Haeussler Bohan; Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College (1994) by Elizabeth A. Daniels; Apostle of Democracy: the Life of Lucy Maynard Salmon (1943) by Louise Fargo Brown; Addresses at the Memorial Service for Lucy Maynard Salmon (1927) by Vassar College.

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