Martha Ellicott Tyson

(1795 - 1873)

Image of Martha Ellicott Tyson taken from Maryland Women's Hall of Fame program.

Martha Ellicott Tyson was born September 13, 1795 at Ellicott's Mills in what is now Howard County, Maryland. She lived in Maryland until her death at age 78, in 1873. Tyson was an antislavery advocate, a supporter of women's rights, a wife, and a mother of twelve children.

Martha Ellicott Tyson's belief in the fundamental principle of the Quaker religion (Society of Friends) proved to have a major impact on her life. At the age of 35, she was appointed to the responsible position of an Elder of the Meeting ( a minister of the Society of Friends). Despite her reluctance to take the appointment, feeling she could not spare the time being a mother of such a large family, she nevertheless accepted the position and for many years fulfilled her duties to the great satisfaction of the church members. In addition, she raised her twelve children with a strong focus on the importance of education for both the girls and the boys.

In her lifetime Martha Ellicott Tyson was also the author of several works, including A Sketch of the Life of Benjamin Banneker, a brief account of The Settlement of Ellicott's Mills, and a fascination description of the visit of Little Turtle and other Indian chiefs to her home during Christmas week in 1807. In her sixties, Martha Ellicott Tyson wrote accounts of her father's intercourse with the United States government relative to the Indians of the northwest. In 1862, she edited, with much ability, and interesting journal of Gerald T. Hopkins, who in company with her father, George Ellicott, visited the Indians of Fort Wayne in northeastern Indiana in 1804, under the direction of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends.

As a result of her dedication, support, and profound interest in education, Martha Ellicott Tyson helped to establish the second coeducation college in the United States, Swarthmore College. After ten years of unsuccessful efforts to get the college started, Martha Ellicott Tyson invited about 30 leaders of the Society of Friends from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York to her home to get the process moving forward. The meeting was the impetus needed to get the college created. Founded in 1860, Swarthmore College provided educational opportunities to young women that weren't previously available to women in America. The founders were also reacting to the politics of the time (1850-1860), leading up to the Civil War with the intention of creating "A better educated generation that could achieve freedom, peace, prosperity, and righteousness."

Martha Ellicott Tyson came from a tradition that encouraged and appreciated the intellectual accomplishments of the family's women. During her life, Tyson, continued to encourage and support the rights of women and slaves to achieve the freedom necessary to reach their full potential. As a pioneering spiritual leader and minister of the Society of Friends, her life was moved by a desire to do good. A favorite sentiment of Martha's was, "Count the day lost, whose low descending sun marks, in its course, no genuine action done."


© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001