Salmon, Lucy Maynard (1853–1927)

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Salmon, Lucy Maynard (1853–1927)

American historian and educator. Born on July 27, 1853, in Fulton, New York; died in Poughkeepsie, New York, on February 14, 1927; daughter of George Salmon and Maria Clara (Maynard) Salmon; University of Michigan, B.A., 1876, A.M., 1883.

Descended from Puritans on both sides of her family, Lucy Maynard Salmon was born in 1853, in the small mill town of Fulton, New York, the only daughter of George Salmon and Maria Maynard Salmon . In addition to her older brother, she had three half-brothers from her father's previous marriage. George Salmon was an active Presbyterian who served as director of the Fulton bank and owner of a successful tannery. Prior to her marriage, Maria Salmon served as principal of the Fulton Female Seminary. She died when Lucy was only seven years old. The stepmother whom Lucy acquired the following year was evidently more concerned with her stepdaughter's spiritual development than with her health and contentment. After attending schools in Oswego, Lucy became a student at Falley Seminary (formerly the Fulton Female Seminary, now reorganized as a coeducational institution). Shy and depressed, Salmon was sent by her worried parents to stay with relatives in the Midwest.

A cousin encouraged her to apply to the University of Michigan, which she entered in 1872 following a year of high school in Ann Arbor. Under the tutelage of Charles Kendall Adams, Salmon fell in love with history and, after graduating in 1876, spent five years in an Iowa high school, first as assistant principal, then as principal. During 1882, she returned to Ann Arbor for a year of graduate work in European history as well as English and American constitutional history, earning her A.M. degree. Salmon then taught in Terre Haute, Indiana, at the State Normal School before taking a fellowship at Bryn Mawr College (1886–87) where the subject of her graduate work was American history.

The year-long fellowship ended with Salmon's acceptance of a teaching position at Vassar College as its first history teacher. In 1889, she became a full professor and would remain at Vassar until the end of her career. Salmon proved to be an influential member of the college faculty, not only in the construction of Vassar's fledgling history department, but also in the greater administration of the college. She took particular interest in developing the school's library and campaigned with other faculty members for a less structured curriculum in order to give students the freedom to pursue their own academic interests. Unhappy with the college's conservative outlook, she pressed for more liberal policies that would give greater voice to the faculty. In addition, by conducting her classes as seminars rather than lectures, she focused on the teacher-student relationship while emphasizing an awareness of current events as a backdrop to the study of history. Under her direction, history classes were popular among students, and in time Salmon's department, which she chaired, grew to include six additional professors.

Salmon's own scholarly work reflected broad interests. Her focus on civil and domestic service had already begun taking shape in her master's thesis, History of the Appointing Power of the President (1885). In her 1897 work Domestic Service (1897), she pioneered the use of statistical methods in the study of the subject, and she disclosed her dislike for the class distinctions evident within Vassar's service system—a disapproval which surfaced again in her Progress in the Household (1906). Two books published in 1923 were born out of Salmon's interest in journalism, The Newspaper and the Historian and The Newspaper and Authority.

Following a two-year sabbatical to Europe starting in 1898, Salmon moved off-campus with Vassar librarian Adelaide Underhill . She became active in the Women's City and County Club; and when the American Historical Association was founded in 1884, she joined as a charter member, going on to serve on the executive committee between 1915 and 1919. Instrumental in the founding of the Association of History Teachers of the Middle States and Maryland, Salmon served as the first president of that organization. In addition, she helped to organize the Western Association of Collegiate Alumnae, which merged into the Association of Collegiate Alumnae at the national level.

Salmon was a pacifist and dedicated suffragist at a time when the Vassar administration banned political activity in support of the suffrage movement. At age 70, she successfully avoided compulsory retirement, and a few years later, in 1926, her alumnae friends organized the Lucy Maynard Salmon Fund for Research to provide monies for her to continue working. She died of a stroke in 1927 and was buried in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Two of Salmon's works, Why Is History Rewritten? (1929) and Historical Material (1933), were published posthumously.


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

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

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