Smith College: Opening and Early History
Laurenus Clark Seelye Papers:
Correspondence and speeches, 1875-1910
College Collections Online
Clark Seelye was born on September 20, 1837, in Bethel, Connecticut. He
was the youngest child of Abigail Taylor Seelye and Seth Seelye, who married
in 1817. Seth Seelye was a merchant, farmer, and deacon. Seelye's siblings
included sisters, Hannah and Elizabeth, and brothers Thomas, Samuel, Julius,
and Henry. Three of the sons, Samuel, Julius, and L. Clark, went on to
become ministers, Thomas was a physician, and Henry a farmer and later
an attorney. Julius served as the president of Amherst College. Seelye
attended the Center District School in Bethel, the Old Hadley Academy in
Woodbury, Connecticut, and afterwards spent some time in Danbury to complete
his education. At the age of twelve he started home schooling under his
brother Samuel. He entered Union College at the age of sixteen where he
received a B.A. and graduated as valedictorian with highest honors. After
Union, he attended Andover Seminary but left due to ill health. He traveled
throughout the Mediterranean and across Europe in hopes of getting well;
while in Germany, he decided to complete his education in Heidelberg.
After graduating from Heidelberg in 1862, Seelye became a minister. He was the pastor of the Old North Church in Springfield, MA, for almost two years. It was in Springfield that he met his wife, Henrietta Chapin, a cousin of a parishioner. They had seven children: Ralph, Harriet, Abigail, Arthur, Walter, Henrietta, and Bertram. Bertram died in infancy and Arthur died tragically on Mt. Tom at the age of twenty-five. After two years at his Springfield post, Seelye's health began to fail again and he decided to take his brother's offer to teach English Literature at Amherst College. He remained at Amherst for ten years, until the trustees of the newly founded Smith College convinced him to be the first president. He was inaugurated on July 4, 1875. While president of Smith College, he earned a DD from Union College (1875), an LLD from Amherst (1894), and after retirement he received honorary degrees from Union College and Smith College (1913). Seelye retired from Smith College in 1910 and became the director and vice president of the Holyoke Water Power Company. That same year he was named President emeritus of Smith College. Throughout his life Seelye continued to give sermons and was frequently at the pulpit until his death on October 12, 1924.
Laurenus Clark Seelye is an important figure in Smith College history. He was the first president of the college and held the position for thirty-seven years (1873-1910). During his presidency, the college grew from fourteen to over 1600 students and from four faculty members (including Seelye himself) to over one hundred faculty members. After retiring, he remained a part of Smith College life and his connection can be traced through photographs, correspondence, and news articles. For more biographical information, see the Seelye Papers, Series I. Biography, folders 1, 4-8.
II. Correspondence, 1860-1925
Correspondents in this series include Smith President Marion LeRoy Burton, Harry Norman Gardiner, Arthur L. Gillett, John M. Greene, Mary Augusta Jordan, William H. Lanning, Alice (Lord) Parsons, and Herbert A. Wilder. The correspondence provides a good record of the early days of Smith College, as well as a look at the people after whom Smith College buildings and monuments are named. Names of note in the Non-Smith College correspondence are Andrew Carnegie, President William McKinley, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The letters in this sub-series cover topics ranging from money to religion. One weakness of the correspondence is that many of the first names of correspondents are not apparent or are completely unknown.
V. Photographs, 1857-1962
VI. Henrieta Chapin Seelye, 1820-1925