This Place in History: Mary Palmer Tyler

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BARRE, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we visited the Vermont History Center in Barre, Vermont. Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins introduced us to Mary Tyler, an important figure in the early 19th century.

“In 1811 [Mary Tyler] published a book about motherhood and how women should take care of their families, really progressive thinking. So we’re going to go inside and learn a lot more about this lady.”

Vermont historian and author Dr. Marilyn “Lyn” Blackwell told us the story of Mary Tyler and how she set an early precedent for childcare.

“Mary Tyler was a daughter of the Revolution. She was born just outside of Boston to a family of American Patriots. After the Revolution, she migrated to Vermont with her husband Royall Tyler. He was a well-known playwright and also a lawyer. He was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court. Mary, meanwhile, raised 11 children on their farm in Brattleboro. Interestingly, none of her children died in their early years. So she was a very accomplished mother. She wrote a famous childcare manual called The Maternal Physician.” 

“We do have a copy at the library in the Vermont History Center. It is by an ‘American matron’. It was written anonymously because women didn’t publish their names very often at this point in time. It was very unusual. And of course her husband had published a number of things which helped her get access to the publishing world. She was very interested in promoting the role of mothers and she challenged the role of doctors at this time. She said mothers were much better than physicians or husbands in monitoring their children’s health, discipline and education.”

“In some ways she was a ground breaker because this was the first comprehensive childcare manual written by an American woman. Other women had written briefly about the importance of motherhood in the late 18th century. The notion of sentimental motherhood became very powerful. Then Mary Tyler began promoting not only taking care of their health and breastfeeding children, but also their education and discipline. And that was an important innovation leading to what historians call Republican Motherhood. The role of women in the new republic was incredibly important, so many other women began writing about that in the time period her manual was published, 1811.”

“Interestingly, it was well-received. She didn’t get any credit because it was written anonymously. For many years, people didn’t know who had written it. People in Vermont knew, but when I went to look at the story of Mary Tyler, most people outside of Vermont didn’t realize that the Maternal Physician was by Mary Palmer Tyler.”

“After her husband died, her husband was quite a bit older than Mary, she fell into poverty. She had to struggle to see how a woman could make a living. She went into raising silkworms and spinning silk. She would then take it into the general store and she could buy things. She didn’t have cash, but she could buy things at the store after she turned in the silk she had spun at home.”

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