Dacus Library / Winthrop University
Rochester’s Mary Hall Leonard (1847-1921) graduated from Bridgewater Normal School in 1867 and was soon hired as an instructor there, where she trained students to be teachers. Later Mary became Principal and First Instructor for the Winthrop Training School for Teachers in Columbia, South Carolina. A prolific author, Mary’s writings included magazine articles, novels, and local area history.
Mary Hall Leonard (1847-1921) was born to James Madison and Jane Thompson Leonard in Bridgewater on December 4, 1847, the third of seven children. Her father was determined that all of their children, including his daughters, would receive higher education. Mary graduated from Bridgewater Normal School in 1867 and taught for one year at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts.
Mary was then hired as an instructor at Bridgewater Normal School, where she trained students to be teachers. In 1874 she had an opportunity to travel to Europe; while in Germany, Mary spent time on postgraduate work. After returning from Europe, she resumed teaching at Bridgewater until 1885. Mary was a successful and respected educator with a strong reputation.
When Dr. David Bancroft Johnson came to Boston looking for funds for a new teacher training school in Columbia, South Carolina, he received money from Robert C. Winthrop. Johnson hired Mary Hall Leonard, who came highly recommended, to be Principal and First Instructor for the Winthrop Training School for Teachers. Under her leadership, the student body increased from 19 to close to 100 students in eight years.
In 1894, Mary left South Carolina and returned to Massachusetts, where she joined her mother in Rochester. Mary’s mother had moved to Rochester after the death of her husband in 1887. Once in Rochester, Mary taught at various institutes and summer schools until her retirement in 1909.
Mary, like her sister Caroline Leonard Goodenough, was a prolific writer. She wrote articles for the magazine Popular Science Monthly, one of which championed the education provided to prospective teachers who were normal school graduates. She also wrote novels, and her books and articles on area history are still valued by local historians. Her titles include Rochester and Her Daughter Towns, A Code of Honor, The Days of the Swamp-Angel, Mattapoisett and Old Rochester Massachusetts, and many others.
Mary lived in Rochester on New Bedford Road until her death on November 19, 1921. She is buried in Rochester’s Center Cemetery.
Connie Eshbach, Rochester Historical Society
Goodenough, Caroline Leonard. Legends, Loves and Loyalties of Old New England. .
Leonard, Mary Hall. Mattapoisett and Old Rochester Massachusetts. 3rd ed., The Mattapoisett Improvement Association, 1950.