Mary Palmer Tyler

Mary Palmer Tyler. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.
Mary Palmer Tyler. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

Time Period

1750-1820

Notable Facts

Wrote one of the earliest comprehensive childcare manuals published by a woman in America. Active in religious and benevolent associations in Brattleboro.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

04/19/1775

Date of Death

07/06/1866

Primary Residence

Brattleboro

Religion

Episcopal/Congregational

Historical Significance

Mary Palmer Tyler wrote one of the earliest childcare manuals published by an American woman. Raised in Watertown, Massachusetts, she was the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Hunt and patriot Joseph Pearse Palmer, who had graduated from Harvard College and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Both her parents encouraged Mary to read and helped to develop her intellect. During the Revolutionary War, the Palmers lost much of their wealth and resorted to apprenticing Mary as a mother's helper to wealthy friends; later they sent her to live with relatives in eastern New York, and in 1793 she briefly taught school.

Mary Palmer married her father's friend Royall Tyler, a Harvard-educated lawyer, well-known as the author of the early American comedy, "The Contrast" (1787). Their first child, born in December 1794, was probably conceived before their marriage during a period when Royall was traveling to Vermont seeking opportunity as a lawyer. The couple eventually migrated to Guilford in 1796. They purchased a farm in Brattleboro in 1801, the same year Royall was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court. While he traveled the state as a jurist, Mary raised eleven children on their Brattleboro farm.

In 1811 Mary Tyler published "The Maternal Physician" anonymously through her husband's publishing contacts. The manual is significant because Tyler outlined an expanded role in child rearing for mothers beyond the customary practice of colonial women. She included advice about the best methods to encourage a child's moral character and intellectual development beyond infancy. Her philosophy was rooted in Lockean beliefs about the ability of parents to mold their children and in the Republican Mother ideal, which shifted the responsibility for this important role to mothers. Tyler encouraged her upper-class readers to breast feed their babies and to insist upon the supremacy of their maternal instincts over the authority of male physicians for routine care. Her manual supplied advice about the treatment of disease and a collection of herbal remedies.

After her husband lost his position as a jurist in 1813 and subsequently became ill with cancer, Mary Tyler nursed him until his death in 1826. With help from her sons, four of whom eventually became ministers, and her daughter, with whom she opened a private school, she managed to survive as a widow. Her diaries reveal the financial hardship she endured and work she performed, including growing and spinning silk. In her later years, Tyler was devoted to her religious faith, became active in both the Episcopal and Congregational Churches, and participated in benevolent associations in Brattleboro. In 1834 she helped found the Brattleboro Maternal Association, a religiously inspired group of mothers who sought to educate their children in piety and Christian values. Tyler also took a leadership role in the temperance movement as president of the Martha Washington Society in the 1840s and supported her son in his efforts to promote anti-slavery.

In old age, Tyler wrote a memoir for her children recalling her patriotic ancestry and her early married life in Vermont. Published as "Grandmother Tyler's Book" (1925) by her great-granddaughter, it features anecdotes about women's domestic work in early Vermont. Tyler died in Brattleboro just after the Civil War. Her papers are housed at the Vermont Historical Society.

Organizations or Movements

  • Brattleboro Maternal Association
  • Martha Washington Society

Occupations

  • Writer

Education

  • Elementary

Additional Information (Bibliography)