Mary Murray Himes 

by Erika E. White

edited by Robert K. Reeves


        Mary Murray Himes was a woman of great importance to her family, the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Dickinson College. She was the knot that held her family together as a young girl as well as an adult and had an influential role in the society of Carlisle. Perhaps her most notable accomplishment was the work she was involved in during the late eighteenth century as one of the first female students at Dickinson College.

        Mary Murray Himes was born on December 23, 1868 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest daughter of the prominent Dickinson professor, historian, and scientist Charles Francis Himes and Mary Elizabeth Murray. Mary Murray Himes was born into a family that was well established in the state of Pennsylvania. Her mother, Mary Elizabeth Murray, was the daughter of a prominent minister in the town of Carlisle, Reverend Joseph A. Murray, who, throughout his life, maintained a close relationship with his granddaughter Mary. Charles Francis Himes was an extremely important figure in the development of the science curriculum at Dickinson College that he was involved in for over three decades. He also served as acting president of the college for a year. Through the importance of her fatherís role in Dickinson College, Mary Murray Himes began her interest in education at an early age. Through her close ties to the College, Mary would become one of the first women to attend Dickinson College.

        As a child, Mary enjoyed activities similar to any other child of her age. She was a well-rounded, chubby child whose interests included picking flowers as well as reading with her father. She enjoyed taking long walks with her father and picking blackberries in the fields around Carlisle. The Himes family was extremely close with their relatives. She would often take vacations to her grandfather Himesís house in New Oxford, Pennsylvania where her father had played when a child himself. As a child, and also as she grew into a young lady, Mary would spend weeks during the summer in New Oxford and during the Christmas season, too. Mary often spent weeks with her cousins throughout the year. One of her favorite activities to do with her younger cousins was going to the college to listen to her father give lectures to his students while he was Professor of Natural Science. Also as a child, Mary would spend summers with her father at Mountain Lake Park in Maryland. Here she would enjoy her time as she felt it was "the loveliest place she [had] ever been." While she was there her father taught summer programs for amateur photographers. It was then that she became interested in photography, following her fatherís steps and his interests in the sciences. She would continue to dabble in photography throughout her life.

        When Mary was just four years old her father and mother took her to Europe for the first time. This would be the first of many times that Mary would visit the European continent. In 1872, as a toddler, Mary journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean on the Abyssinia with her father and mother as well as her Aunt Helen, the sister closest to Charles Francis Himes. Mary was included in all the activities with her parents and aunt while they toured England, the Hague, Switzerland, and Italy. While in London they visited the Tower of London where she remarked on the "stables full of dead horses." When they visited the Hague, young Mary commented on the "pleasant women" who wore wooden shoes and yokes around their necks. They visited Germany for a substantial part of their trip where, as a young man, her father received his Ph. D. in Physics at the University of Giessen. The family visited the town of Weisbaden at the same time as Kaiser Wilhelm. Mary enjoyed the flags that were flown in celebration of his arrival over the entire town. She often made comments on the buildings and the architecture in Europe. (Perhaps this was when she developed her fascination with architecture which she would later study in College.) Commenting on the old churches Mary said, "I think they are old enough to be tooken down." [Observations of a Tot Traveler begun with Mary Elizabeth Himes and finished by Mary Murray Himes in 1905, Found in the Charles Francis Himes Family Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania]

        Education was an important part of the Himes familyís life. Both Maryís mother and father were well educated and they raised their daughters to follow in their footsteps. Mary Murray Himes was an excellent student. She began her schooling at Miss Hitnerís School where she studied History, Geography, Arithmetic, and her favorite subjects, Reading and Writing. Mary consistently received good marks in her Reading and Writing courses and as a young child was above average in her education. Later, Mary attended the Metzger Institute where she focused on Latin, American Literature, and composition. As she had while attending Miss Hitnerís school, Mary received high marks in all of her courses. Those grades served to see her accepted into Dickinson College, her fatherís alma mater and place of employment.

        In 1885 Mary Murray Himes was enrolled in Dickinson College just a year after the first woman to ever be enrolled in Mary Murray and Anna Magdalen Himes on Louther St. homethe college, Zatae Longsdorff. Zatae, a friend of Maryís was the first woman enrolled as a student in the college after being dominated by males for over one hundred years. This was an important moment for women in the late 1800s. It took seven years before a woman could be accepted into the college. The first to propose to the Board of Trustees the idea of women entering the college was General Rusling in 1876. One of the proposed problems was the issue of housing for women. Apparently there was not enough money to build a proper dormitory for the ladies. The final decision came in 1883 that the women could enter the college under the same standards as men. This decision came about under the administration of President McCauley, in part to stem the tide of falling admissions.

        As Mary was one of the first women to enter the college, there were few activities for the young Coeds to enjoy. They often looked for support from the other women in the college, all of them becoming very close. The activities of the Coeds included reading together, walking together and going on sleigh rides. A poem written in October of 1888 by the women entitled "The Walk Taken" discusses the opposition that they received while attending Dickinson:


For weeks it had rained and was raining still

Such awful weather!

And it made the Co-eds so terribly ill

They assembled together.


They wanted a walk, but the weather said; "No!"

It seemed to forbid it:

But in spite of their foe, they decided to go

And they did it.


The morning appointed dawned bright and clear

And the Co-eds assembled without a fear,

But in their eyes there stood many a tear

When they found opposition awaiting them here....1


        One activity taken very seriously by male and female alike was throwing parties. Two extremely successful parties occurred on Halloween night in the years of 1888 and 1889. These two parties are documented in the poetry book that the Coeds wrote while they attended Dickinson. This journal includes many poems such as the "Valedictory Ode" of 1839 and songs that the ladies wrote; one of them, "there is a Tavern in the Town." A part of the Coeds "Class Poem of 1889" discusses the first appearances of women in the college:


Old men and young men, great men and small,

Women and children, students and all

Race of men, from east to west,

From the north to the south, and all of the rest

Who inhabit this globe; especially the men

Called astronomers, since it is given to them

To study the heavens and try to discover

The plan upon which our world was made over,

Were startled, alarmed, thrown in great constellation,

Unheard of before, and seen by no one

Of those who much work in observing have done.

Unrecorded by the Hindoos, the Arabs, the Greeks,

Hipparchus, Lycho- Brake, by Kepler whose peaks

Would account for everything seen in the sky,

And whose theories answered the why of the why.

And all who saw it quite well-remember

That it appeared about four years ago in September....2


        Although the males at first put up a fight against the entrance of the women into the college, they soon began to accept that the women were there to stay. This was made obvious by the actions of Zatae Longsdorff. In 1886, Zatae became the first woman to receive a prize at the college. The Pierson Oraorcal Prize, one of the ten awards given to the students, was presented to the best speaker in an oral contest. During Zataeís speech the men of the college set off the alarm and it was then that the college made it a point to enforce equal rights among the students. However, before this, Zatae was harassed with mice and snakes in order for her to realize that she was not welcome. Soon the tension died and the men and women began associating freely amongst one another, but the activities of the women were still limited. They went to football games together and the women attended fraternity parties with the men. By 1896 the first female organization was established, the Harman Literary Society which was the female version of the Belles Lettres Society. By 1897 the first sorority, Gamma Zeta, was established by 6 women.

        Mary Murray Himes (2nd from left)The first women of the college took their education seriously knowing that their purpose for being there was important. All of the women received high marks for their studies, Mary Murray Himes being no exception. Throughout her years in college, Mary received excellent marks in English Literature and History, Modern Languages, and in Moral Philosophy under the guidance of President McCauley. Some of her best marks were in the science department under the instruction of her father. She graduated June 27, 1889 with a Certificate of Partial Studies. This certificate allowed her to stray away from the required courses and concentrate on the subjects that most interested her. Many of the first women to graduate from the college received Bachelor of Arts Degrees and went on to pursue careers in either education or medicine.grade report

        Following her graduation, Mary made a point to visit her friends and relatives, often serving as the family representative in her parentsí absence. Through the letters between she and her parents, family news was circulated to the family friends and relatives. When her mother or father were away, she acted as a parent would to her younger sister Anna Magdalen Himes. And, as her mother was often away Mary found herself taking care of Anna quite often. Following the death of Mary E. Murray on December 3, 1904, Mary Murray Himes was left to fill her role in the house, entertaining guests for the family and making sure things ran smoothly while her father was away. Anna was married a few months before her motherís death, leaving Mary to attend to the majority of family business. She continued to pursue her activities as young socialite in Carlisle, often throwing parties for the socialites of the area. She was a part of the Civic Club and followed in her motherís footsteps in her involvement in the clubs and activities of the town and church. She continued with her activities in the Hamilton Library Association, often speaking on issues dealing with women. While her father was away on business whether in Europe, Illinois, or even New Jersey, Mary went through all of his letters sending them immediately on to him if necessary. After the death of her father in 1918 she handled all the business of the Himes family. Much of her dealings with her fatherís business involved his historical works, especially the works he did on Thomas Cooper. In 1905, Mary was wed to a fellow Dickinson College graduate, Thomas E. Vale, son of Captain Joseph G. Vale and Sarah Eyster Vale of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This event was "one of the leading society events of the season," says The Evening Sentinel. [Himes and Vale Wedding, September 22, 1905, The Evening Sentinel, Found in the Charles Francis Himes Family Collection , Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania]

        Not only was Vale a faculty member of the Dickinson School of Law, but he was also a district attorney of Cumberland Country. Their marriage brought two children, Mary Himes Vale and Sarah Elizabeth Vale. Mary brought the two girls up in the same fashion as her parents had raised her. Her father, while still alive, was a huge part of her childrenís lives and, following his passing still influenced the familyís activities; she would often take her daughters blackberry picking and on long walks resembling the walks she used to take with her father.

        Mary Murray Himes was an important individual in the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She participated in many clubs and activities and held an important role as a socialite of the town. Mary was also a leading figure in the womenís movement at Dickinson College. She, like the other few Dickinson women of her time, paved the way for the future of women in the college. She was sophisticated and smart and not only was an important part of her society, but also a valuable part of her family, the bond that held it together until her death in 1942.


1.  "The Walk Taken," The Co-eds Journal, by Mary Murray Himes and class mates, Found in the Charles Francis Himes Family Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.


2.  "The Class Poem 1889," The Co-eds Journal, by Mary Murray Himes and class mates, Found in the Charles Francis Himes Family Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.