Note: A few weeks ago, Renegade South published a story of murder and mayhem among the Lyon and Landrum families of Jones County. Accusations of murder notwithstanding, the southeastern Mississippi Lyon family is better known for the progressive political views and accomplishments of several of its descendants. Dr. Elijah W. Lyon, we have seen, was likely “Dr. Lyon,” the populist listed from Jasper County in 1894. And, as I note in Long Shadow of the Civil War, in 1920, Elijah’s first cousin once removed, Thomas J. Lyon, was the Socialist candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi’s Sixth District. This same Thomas J. Lyon married Theodocia Collins, daughter of Unionist/Populist Jasper Collins.
Summarized below, with permission from Keith and Donnis Lyon, is a brief biography of yet another illustrious member of the Lyon family: Elijah W. Lyon, grandson and namesake of the populist, Dr. Elijah W. Lyon. This younger E. W. Lyon was a historian and president of Pomona College from 1941 until 1969 .
Elijah W. Lyon was born in 1904 in Heidelberg, Mississippi. As a young man, his goal was to become a journalist. Soon, however, he discovered the study of history, and accordingly changed his plans. An outstanding student at the University of Mississippi, he was elected senior class president and appointed editor of the college newspaper. Soon after, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to St. John’s College at Oxford.
After returning to the United States, Elijah became assistant professor of history at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute. He then moved on to Colgate University, where he was named head of the history department in 1934.
In 1941, Lyon was appointed president of Pomona College (one of the five colleges of the Claremont College complex in southern California). Until 1969, he helped shape its reputation as a leading liberal arts institution.
According to journalist Roxane Arnold in a 1989 article, “almost as soon as he arrived at Pomona, he found himself in turbulent times, first because of the outset of World War II and then into the McCarthy era. Throughout it all, he is said to have stood tall in defending academic freedom.”
“After retiring, Lyon returned once again to history, writing more history books and speaking at major colleges throughout the country. To honor him, a professorship was established in his name in 1969; and then in 1989, ground-breaking was held on campus for the college’s newest dormitory–the E. Wilson Lyon Court.”
Elijah W. Lyon was more than a skilled administrator, however; he was a “scholar’s scholar” who made it a point to recruit a strong faculty that set “the tone for what is taught in classrooms there today.” According to David Alexander, Pomona’s president in 1989, Lyon ”felt his paramount duty was the appointment of a strong faculty. For 28 years, Wilson Lyon applied his view of liberal education to the development of Pomona College and what the college is today is the product of those dreams.”
The 28-year presidency of Elijah Wilson Lyon (1941-1969) was the longest in Pomona’s history. The College we know today owes much to his leadership, and his History of Pomona College (1977) remains the most reliable source of information about the College. Lyon’s portrait was commissioned on the occasion of his 25th year as president.
Books by Elijah Wilson Lyon:
The History of Louisiana, Particularly of the Cession of That Colony to the United States of America co-authored with Francois Barbe-Marbois (1976)
Vikki Bynum, Moderator