Smith College

From New World Encyclopedia
Smith College
Smith botanic garden greenhouse outside.JPG
Motto EN THI APETHI THN ΓΝΩΣΙΝ - To Virtue Knowledge
Established Charted in 1871; opened its doors in 1875
Type Private women's college
Location Northampton, Massachusetts USA

Smith College is a private, independent women's Liberal arts college located in Northampton, Massachusetts. It is the largest member of the Seven Sisters.

Smith is also a member of the Five Colleges consortium, which allows its students to attend classes at four other Pioneer Valley institutions: Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This provides a unique exception to the women only at undergraduate level, as men attending any of the Five Colleges are allowed to attend classes at Smith and Mount Holyoke, and are admitted to 95 percent of all available classes with the main exception being team sports. Smith is also known for its racial, socio-economic, and sexual-orientation diversity.

Smith, as the largest of the Seven Sisters colleges, has supported the advancement of women in society, enabling them to receive the level of education that permits them to make significant impact in all arenas. Yet it is also important to recognize the unique feminine distinctions that are essential to the establishment of healthy families and a harmonious society. While Smith has maintained an educational environment specifically for women, greater clarification of the qualities that distinguish men and women, particularly in their gender roles within the family, is still needed.

Mission and reputation

Massachusetts resident Sophia Smith left money in her will for the establishment of a college that would provide for women the same level of education available to men. The school she envisioned was to be "pervaded by the Spirit of Evangelical Christian Religion" but "without giving preference to any sect or denomination."[1] Smith believed that higher education would improve women's abilities in all their endeavors, from being a mother to being a member of society.

Today Smith is known for its racial, socio-economic, and sexual-orientation diversity.[2][3][4] The school is seen as an exemplar of single-sex and liberal arts education.


The college was chartered in 1871 by a bequest of Sophia Smith and opened its doors in 1875 with 14 students and six faculty.[5] In 1915-1916 the student enrollment was 1,724 and the faculty numbered 163. Today, with some 2,600 undergraduates on campus, Smith is the largest privately endowed college for women in the country.

The college began its second century in 1975 by inaugurating its first woman president, Jill Ker Conway, who came to Smith from Australia by way of Harvard and the University of Toronto. Through its history, Smith has been led by ten presidents and two acting presidents. Since President Conway's term, all Smith presidents have been women, with the exception of John M. Connolly's one-year term as acting president in the interim after President Simmons left to lead Brown University.


The campus was planned and planted in the 1890s as a botanical garden and arboretum, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The campus landscape now encompasses 147 acres (0.6 km²) and includes more than 1,200 varieties of woody trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and an excellent collection of warm-weather plants in a set of historic conservatories.

Smith College Botanic Garden greenhouse

The first outlines of the Botanic Garden began in the 1880s, when Smith College hired the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot to develop a campus landscape plan. Frederick Law Olmsted, senior member of the firm, is best remembered for designing Central Park in New York City and the Boston park system. The Olmsted plan dated February 1893 includes curving drives and walkways, open spaces with specimen trees, and vistas over Paradise Pond through wooded groves. Olmsted also provided planting lists of diverse trees, shrubs, herbs, and aquatic and marsh plants. However in a more formal sense, the Botanic Garden of Smith College took shape under William Francis Ganong, appointed professor of botany and director of the Botanic Garden in May 1894, and Edward J. Canning, hired in summer 1894 as head gardener.

Smith's Botanic Garden collection includes 1200 types of woody trees and shrubs, 2200 types of hardy herbaceous plants, 3200 types of tender herbaceous and woody plants in greenhouses, and 6600 different kinds of plants, giving a total of approximately 10,000 types of plants on campus.

Smith College Botanic Garden greenhouse

The Lyman Conservatory's greenhouses with 12,000 square feet (1,100 m²) date from 1895, and house over 2500 species of plants for the instruction of Smith students in the plant sciences. These plants are selected from a wide variety of families and habitats; they comprise one of the best collections of tropical, subtropical, and desert plants in the country.

The campus arboretum consists of 127 acres (514,000 m²) of woody trees and shrubs, and is free and open every day.

Other Smith Campus Gardens include the Rock Garden, Japanese Garden, President's Garden, Capen Garden, Woodland Garden, Mary Maples Dunn Garden, and Systematics Garden & Perennial Border.


Smith College has 285 professors in 37 academic departments and programs, for a faculty:student ratio of 1:9. It is the first and only women's college in the United States to grant its own undergraduate degrees in engineering. The Picker Engineering Program offers a single Bachelor of Science in engineering science, combining the fundamentals of multiple engineering disciplines.

The Ada Comstock Scholars Program is a bachelor's degree program for non-traditional students.

Smith also has special one-year graduate programs for international students. One such program, the American Studies Diploma Program, was founded by Daniel Aaron during the early 1960s, the height of the Cold War, to serve as a counterweight of international misunderstanding and violence. Students can design specialized majors and minors with the approval of the college and related departments. Individuals may also enroll as nondegree students by registering for one or more courses.

Smith runs its own junior year abroad (JYA) programs in four European cities. These programs are notable for requiring all studies to be conducted in the language of the host country. In some cases students live in homestays with local families. The programs are located in: Paris, Hamburg, Florence and Geneva (students in the Geneva and Paris programs study in French). Nearly half of Smith's juniors study overseas, either through Smith JYA programs or at more than 40 other locations around the world.

Despite the name Smith College, Smith actually offers some graduate programs. Smith's graduate programs are open to both men and women. Each year approximately 100 men and women pursue advanced graduate work at Smith. The Smith College master of social work (M.S.W.) degree is nationally recognized for its specialization in clinical social work and puts a heavy emphasis on direct field work practice. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The school also offers a Ph.D. program designed to prepare MSWs for leadership positions in clinical research education and practice. The college has a limited number of other programs leading to Ph.D.s, and is part of a cooperative doctoral program co-administered by Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


Colors and mascot

Smith College does not have college colors in the usual sense. Its official color is white, trimmed with gold, but the official college logo is currently blue and yellow (a previous logo was burgundy and white). NCAA athletic teams have competed in blue and white (or blue and yellow, in the case of the soccer, crew, swimming, and squash teams) uniforms since the 1970s, and selected Pioneers as the official name and mascot in 1986. Popular club sports are free to choose their own colors and mascot; both Rugby and Fencing have chosen red and black.

Smith has a rotating system of class colors dating back to the 1880s, when intramural athletics and other campus competitions were usually held by class. Today, class colors are yellow, red, blue and green, with incoming first-year classes assigned the color of the previous year's graduating class; their color then "follows" them through to graduation. Alumnae classes, particularly at reunion, continue to identify with and use their class color thereafter.

Residential culture

Smith requires all first-year undergraduate students, as well as most other undergraduates, to live in on-campus houses. This policy is intended to add to the camaraderie and social cohesion of its students. Unlike most institutions of its type, Smith College does not have dorms, but rather 36 separate houses, built in the style that was popular during the time they were constructed. (A popular rumor perpetuated by students and Smith College Gold Key guides is that Sophia Smith stated in her will that each house be constructed in the style of the period; this is, however, only a rumor.) The campus also boasts a botanic garden that includes a Japanese tea house, a variety of specialty gardens including a rock garden, and historic glass greenhouses dating back to 1895. It is rumored that the staircase in Chapin House was the inspiration for the one in Tara in Gone with the Wind. (Margaret Mitchell went to Smith for one year and lived in Chapin House.) The staircase, however, is not particularly impressive.

Academic year events

"Convocation" signals the start of the fall semester. For some students, the annual, sometimes rowdy, event is an occasion for celebration and an opportunity for creative attire. House communities develop imaginative themes for group fashion, and Smith seniors put special touches on favorite hats to create their own unique "senior hats," to be worn for the first time at Convocation.

Mountain Day is a tradition borrowed from Mount Holyoke College and is observed early in the fall semester. The President of the College selects a crisp, sunny, beautiful autumn day when the leaves are in full color, and announces the cancellation of classes by having bells rung on campus at 7:00 AM on the chosen day. The eager anticipation of Mountain Day leads to intense speculation and an abnormally high interest in meteorology by students in the weeks leading up to the surprise announcement. Traditional observance of Mountain Day by students might involve New England road trips or outdoor pursuits, and college dining services provides box lunches to be taken off-campus.

Otelia Cromwell Day, named for Smith's first African-American alumna, began in 1989 to provide students with an in-depth program specifically addressing issues of racism and diversity. Afternoon classes are canceled, and students are invited to participate in lectures, workshops, symposia and cultural events centered around a different theme each year.

In February 1876, the College began an annual observance of George Washington's birthday. In 1894, a rally became part of the day's events, and the focus of the celebration became primarily patriotic rather than exclusively social—though always with a women's college twist. Students that year staged a mock debate on the subject, "Does Higher Education Unfit a Man for Domestic Life?" In 1906 the celebration was first referred to as "Rally Day" (although the name was not used officially by the College until 1992). In 1944, seniors made Rally Day the first public wearing of their graduation caps and gowns; since then, mortarboards have been replaced by wacky, often homemade hats. Today, the Rally Day Convocation is centered around an historical theme, and features a distinguished keynote speaker and the awarding of Smith College Medals to accomplished alumnae.

Reunions and Commencement events

The Alumnae Association of Smith College hosts official class reunions every five years, plus a special two-year reunion. All alumnae from all classes are welcome to return in any year; "off-year" alumnae attend campus-wide events as the "Class of 1776."

Traditional reunion and Commencement events are linked, and celebrate the close ties between Smith's alumnae and its graduating seniors and their families. At the conclusion of final exams, most underclasswomen leave the campus, while seniors remain in their houses for a week to celebrate and prepare for Commencement. Alumnae arrive for reunions later in the week, and many alumnae arrange for official accommodations in the campus houses, right alongside senior residents.

Ivy Day, the day before Commencement, is the high point of reunion and a significant event for seniors as well. Junior ushers lead a parade through campus, carrying vines of ivy to be planted by the departing seniors as a symbol of their lifelong connection to the college. Alumnae (and, often, their children), dressed in white and wearing sashes in their class color, line up in reverse order by class along both sides of the route. Seniors line up nearest the end of the parade route, wearing traditional white outfits and each carrying a single red rose. All cheer each alumnae class as it marches past, then fall in to join the end of the parade. Many alumnae classes carry signs with humorous poems or slogans, or hold balloons or wear hats in their class color. Ivy Day festivities conclude in the Quad, where the seniors plant their ivy and speakers address alumnae on the progress of fundraising and the state of the college.

Illumination Night, beginning at dusk on the Saturday evening before Commencement, is a celebration of the campus and a send-off of sorts for graduating seniors. Throughout central campus, electric street lights are replaced for one night by multicolored Japanese-style paper lanterns, lit with real candles. These hang on both sides of every walking path and cast a soft glow over the buildings and lawns. Student a capella singing groups and improv comedy troupes roam the campus, stopping occasionally to entertain the crowds. A jazz band, hired by the college, turns the science buildings' courtyard into a dance floor. Seniors, alumnae, faculty and their families spend the evening on walking tours of the illuminated campus and Botanic Gardens. The major official event of the night is the Senior Step Sing: seniors gather on the steps of Neilson Library, where they are serenaded by members of the Sophomore Push committee, then are physically pushed off the stairs and "into the real world."

Until the early 1990s, all alumnae reunions were held during Commencement weekend. However, as the number of returning alumnae grew beyond the capacity of the campus, reunions were split into Reunion I/Commencement Weekend and Reunion II, held the following weekend. "Significant" reunions (50-, 25- and ten- year, but also two-year) and the earliest reunion classes (65-year and prior) are assigned to Reunion I; other reunions (five-, 15-, 20-, 30-year, and so on) are assigned to Reunion II.

Campus folklore

Smith has numerous folk tales and ghost stories surrounding the campus and historical events. One such tale holds that Sessions House is inhabited by the ghost of Lucy Hunt, who died of a broken heart after being separated from her lover, General Burgoyne.

Another tale tells of a girl who haunts the basement of one of the houses near the river, after a tunnel which led down to the pond collapsed as she was sneaking out to meet a lover. Yet another tale describes the accidental death of a girl who climbed out of her bedroom window to meet a boyfriend, somehow fell into a hollow column supporting the portico of her dorm, and suffocated.

Notable alumnae

A number of Smith alumnae have gone on to become notable in their respective fields and endeavors, including authors Margaret Mitchell and Madeleine L'Engle, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Julia Child, Jane Yolen, Yolanda King, Sylvia Plath, Martha Southgate, Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin, Jane Harman, and Niki Tsongas, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and First Ladies Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. In 2006, 17 Smith graduates won Fulbright fellowships for international graduate study.

The Alumnae Association of Smith College considers all former students to be members, whether they graduated or not, and does not generally differentiate between graduates and non-graduates when identifying Smith alumnae.


  1. Smith History Smith College. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  2. "Smith College's Entering Class Sets Records for Selectivity and Diversity", Smith College news release, July 2005. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  3. "Study of Women and Gender", Smith College website. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  4. "Resources for Learning More About Gender Identity & Gender Expression", Smith College website. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  5. "Sophia Smith: Smith College's Founder", Smith College website. Retrieved November 11, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s, 2nd ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. ISBN 0870238698
  • McRobert, Megan. Smith College: Off the Record. College Prowler, 2005. ISBN 1596581182
  • Vickery, Margaret. Smith College. Princeton Architectural Press, 2007. ISBN 1568985916

External links

All links retrieved January 30, 2023.


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