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Reynolds, Myra (1853–1936)

Reynolds, Myra (1853–1936)

American scholar and educator . Born in Troupsburg, New York, on March 18, 1853; died in Los Angeles, California, on August 20, 1936; daughter of Newell Lent Reynolds (a school principal turned minister) and Emily (Knox) Reynolds; graduated from State Normal School, Mansfield, Pennsylvania, 1870; Vassar College, A.B., 1880; University of Chicago, Ph.D., 1895.

Named fellow in English at the University of Chicago (1892); published The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry between Pope and Wordsworth (1909); became full professor (1911).

Myra Reynolds was born in 1853 in Troupsburg, Steuben County, New York. Her father Newell Lent Reynolds, a native of Troupsburg, was a school principal who shortly after her birth became a Baptist minister. Her mother Emily Knox Reynolds was from nearby Knoxville, Pennsylvania. Reynolds grew up in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, where she developed a love of and appreciation for nature from her father. She completed her early education at Cook Academy, a Baptist school, then moved on to the State Normal School in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, in 1867. After graduating from there in 1870, she disappears from historical view for six years, although it is thought she taught school during that time.

In 1876, at age 23, Reynolds enrolled at Vassar College. She graduated from Vassar with an A.B. degree in 1880 and embarked on a series of jobs in academia: she acted as head of the English department at Wells College in Aurora, New York, from 1880 to 1882; taught at the Corning (New York) Free Academy from 1882 to 1884; then returned to Vassar as a teacher of English from 1884 to 1892, during which time she took off a year and a half to serve as principal of Woodstock College in Canada. In the fall of 1892, Reynolds began graduate study at the University of Chicago, where she would remain for the rest of her career.

One of Reynolds' initial accomplishments at the university was being named one of the first four fellows in English in 1892. Beginning in 1893, she served as the head of one of the university's earliest women's residence halls, Nancy Foster Hall, a position she held for the next 30 years. In 1894 she became chair of a committee that founded the University of Chicago Settlement, first directed by Mary Eliza McDowell . In addition to her participation in the growth of the university, Reynolds continued to work on her own career and education. She became an assistant in English in 1894 and earned a Ph.D. the following year. She then moved up within the English department to instructor, then to assistant professor (1897), associate professor (1903), and full professor (1911).

While at the University of Chicago, Reynolds also published several scholarly books. One of the first of these was The Poems of Anne (Finch) , Countess of Winchilsea, published in 1903. Her best-known book, The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry between Pope and Wordsworth, which appeared in 1909, was an extension of her doctoral dissertation. Her last important work, The Learned Lady in England, 1650–1760, an engaging series of personal sketches, was published in 1920.

Reynolds was an influential teacher who was appreciated for her liveliness and positive attitude, as well as her ability to apply her knowledge of and love for art and nature to the study of literature. She retired from the University of Chicago in 1923, at age 70, and spent her retirement years near two of her sisters and their families in Palos Verdes, California. Reynolds died of broncho-pneumonia and uremia in Los Angeles, California, on August 20, 1936, at 83.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri

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