Mary Severn Jones was born in 1839 to Joanna (nee Philips) and Jonathan Jones who lived on a farm in Tredyffrin township with a south boundary of Swedesford Road and that had the Great Valley Presbyterian Church on its southwest corner. Mary’s father died in 1845 when she was 6 years old. Her mother was left with 7 children aged between 18 and 2 years old but they managed to keep farming the family tract of 92 acres and the children were given a good education.

Little is known about Mary’s early education but it is likely that she attended the Presbyterian School which was located straight across Swedesford Road from the Jones Farm. In the later 1850s Mary attended the Female Institute at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA., graduating in 1859. (Mary’s brother Jonathan was later to become the principle of the Female Institute).


Mary Jones’ Graduation Pendant

The family were strong Baptists and attended the Baptist Church in the Great Valley (they also attended other local churches on Sunday evenings). The link to this Baptist Church can be traced back through her grandmother Rachel Jones (nee Davis).

The year of 1860 was one of great change for the family which was documented by Mary in her diary that she started writing at the beginning of the year. The family decided to give up the farm and moved to Reading. The family lived next to Joanna’s sister, Mary Severn (nee Philips). Mary’s brothers Samuel and Judson moved to Wisconsin.

Mary’s mother, Joanna, died in 1883 and Mary moved to the Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee where she taught Mathematics until her death in 1894. In the 1880s and 1890s the Roger Williams University had about a dozen staff and 250 students, most of whom were black and about a third women.