Salmon, Lucy Maynard

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SALMON, Lucy Maynard

Born 27 July 1853, Fulton, New York; died 14 February 1927, Poughkeepsie, New York

Daughter of George and Maria Maynard Salmon

Lucy Maynard Salmon's father was a staunch Presbyterian and a Republican with abolitionist sentiments. Her mother was head of the Fulton Female Seminary from 1836 until her marriage to George Salmon. With this strong heritage of female education, it is not surprising that Salmon received an excellent education for a woman of her day and age. She attended grammar school in Oswego, New York, and the coeducational Falley Seminar, formerly the Fulton Female Seminary.

Salmon was one of only 50 women at the University of Michigan. Under the tutorship of Charles Kendall Adams, she majored in history and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1876. She received her M.A. degree in 1883, after several years as assistant principal and principal of a high school in MacGregor, Iowa. While teaching at the Indiana State Normal School, Salmon published her first significant historical work, Education in Michigan during the Territorial Period (1885). After further graduate study in American history at Bryn Mawr College, Salmon accepted a position as the first professor of history at Vassar College in 1887. Except for a time spent studying in Europe (1898-1900), she remained at Vassar the rest of her professional career.

Salmon became a recognized leader within the Vassar College community. She believed the student should be the principal agent in her own education (Salmon taught her history courses in a seminar format, with emphasis placed on student research) and that the heart of any college is its library. She also anticipated future trends in historical research and methodology when she encouraged the development of a collection of periodical literature at the Vassar college library. Her personal contribution to the periodical collection was the guide The Justice Collection of Material Relating to the Periodical Press in the Vassar College Library (1925).

Salmon was a charter member of the American Historical Association. From 1896 to 1899, she served as a member of the association's "Committee of Seven," whose report, The Study of History in Schools (1915), formed the guide for teaching history in secondary schools for generations. In addition to her professional activities, Salmon was an active supporter of woman suffrage and an advocate of world peace.

As a scholar, Salmon's work followed no developmental pattern until her later years. Her most important early work is the volume History of the Appointing Power of the President (1886), which investigates the creation of the appointing power of the president by the Constitutional Convention, its precedents in English law, and the experience of the states under the Articles of Confederation. While this work is dated, and while Salmon's hopes for a future when presidents would again make appointments based on merit, as they had during the Federalist era, were certainly not borne out by history, it is still a significant historical work for anyone interested in presidential use and abuse of power.

Domestic Service (1897) and Progress in the Household (1906) document Salmon's increasing interest in what are considered today to be nontraditional subjects and methods of writing history. Domestic Service is based on a survey conducted in 1889 and 1890. It presents an analysis of household employment within a historical perspective, beginning with a discussion of domestic service in colonial America. Salmon suggests there should be specialization in the work of domestic servants—paralleling the division of labor in other fields—and that servants be compensated fairly for their work, through higher wages and profit-sharing plans.

Progress in the Household is, in essence, a supplement to Domestic Service, as the essays outline "recent progress in the study of domestic service." These books are dated, and the institutions and problems described by Salmon are for the most part nonexistent today. Still, they present the modern reader with a picture of domestic life and service in the years before the technological revolution of the 20th century and express the issues of concern to American women at the time.

Salmon's departure from the then-current traditional school of history, which emphasized study of the political institutions of America, led to the writing of her most important historical works, The Newspaper and the Historian and The Newspaper and Authority, both published in 1923. The former discusses the advantages and limitations of newspapers and other periodicals as sources in the writing of history. Salmon points out how the periodical press reveals the personality of its time or environment. The companion volume, The Newspaper and Authority, is international in scope and investigates the press with reference to its external government controls.

Just three months prior to her death, Salmon completed Why Is History Rewritten? (1929). "History must be continually rewritten because there is always a new history. To the end of time, as far as the human mind can see, history will need to be rewritten and in that very fact the historian finds one of its greatest interests." Salmon was a pioneer in liberating the study of history from the narrow confines of a political perspective and introducing historians to a new range of sources for historical study.

Other Works:

History in the German Gymnasia (1898). Some Principles in the Teaching of History (1908). Patronage in the Public Schools (1908). History in the Back Yard (1913). The Dutch West India Company on the Hudson (1915). "Is This Vassar College?" (1915). Main Street (1915). What Is Modern History? (1917). Historical Material (1933).


Brown, L. F., Apostle of Democracy: The Life of Lucy Maynard Salmon (1943, reprinted 1967).

Reference works:

DAB. NAW (1971).


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Salmon, Lucy Maynard

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