Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N.

By W. D. Puleston | Go to book overview

Chapter II Birth and Boyhood

AMERICAN interest in education during this decade was not limited to providing instruction for boys. While Colonel Thayer was improving West Point, a finishing school for girls conducted by a young matron, Mrs. Mary Okill, was flourishing in New York City. To escape the heat of the city, Mrs. Okill took a carefully chaperoned group of these young ladies for a short visit to West Point during the July holidays of 1830.

During this visit her younger daughter, Mary Helena, quite unintentionally conquered the heart of Professor Mahan. Only fifteen years old, she had come to attend the cadets' hop and was teased by her schoolmates about her elderly beau. Fortunately for the professor, the Okills and he had a mutual friend in Dr. F. A. Muhlenberg, and Mahan was able to continue and improve the acquaintance, although the vivacious mother, with her French humor, was at first amused at the prospect of such a mature son-in-law. It was not a short courtship, but the perseverance of the professor won and in 1839 he and Mary Okill were married.

After a brief honeymoon, he brought his bride to the large house assigned to him as Professor of Engineering. On the first floor was a long hall opening into a front and back parlor, the latter being used as a combination living and dining room. On the second floor were the professor's study and two bedrooms, and there were two bedrooms in the attic. The basement contained a big kitchen with a Dutch oven and two cellars. Running water was unheard of at the Post, nor was there any furnace; open fires and stoves heated the house. But the Mahans' was a substantial, well-built home, as befitted a Professor of Civil and

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