Mary Willis’s decision to go to college in 1858 must have surprised her family. At the time, Alfred University was one of only two colleges in America that accepted women. Mary had to travel nearly 80 miles from her hometown to begin her education.
Mary’s interests in feminism and abolition were nurtured by Alfred University’s progressive ideals. When she returned home, her spirit was even stronger. Though her community must have disapproved of her radical beliefs, she nevertheless stuck to her principles. She turned her farmhouse into a stop on the Underground Railroad. According to surviving oral histories, Mary was a very active participant. Her work has been recorded in popular histories and has also been fictionalized.