previous pagenext page

The Smith Family: Thrift and Benevolence 

Born on 27 August 1796 in Hatfield, just a few miles from Northampton, Sophia Smith was the fourth of seven children -- and the first daughter -- of Joseph Smith, a prosperous farmer, and his wife, Lois White Smith.

Of the seven Smith offspring, three died young and only Joseph, Jr. married, producing no heirs. Sophia, her sister Harriet and brother Austin shared the family homestead, which still stands at 22 Main Street in Hatfield.

Sophia's father, Joseph, was both prosperous and frugal. After his death, son Austin shrewdly invested his inheritance in the New York stock market and often traveled there to watch the Smith assets grow. Back in Hatfield, Austin was reputed to be a miser devoid of community spirit. He argued at town meetings against the extravagance of public education and was said to pay board to his sisters to manage the household -- and then charge them a shilling for a ride in the family carriage.

Sophia Smith sampler
Smith Family sampler
by Sophia Smith, ca. 1810

Go to: Smith Family Genealogy


"There was his [Austin's] everlasting scorn of women-folk who had 'no corn in the garret.'"

Gladys W. Davis, "Sophia's Legacy," 1950

"Austin Smith himself once introduced a resolution in town meeting forbidding all instruction in the public schools except in reading, writing, arithmetic and geography. It is said that he was disposed to look with contempt upon the education of women. Strange it is that two men like Austin Smith and his father should have accumulated the wealth that was used in founding the leading college for women in the country! Some of the Christian people of Hatfield are disposed to regard this as an example of God's overruling power."

Charles A. Wight, The Hatfield Book, 1908

At least Austin seemed to come by his penurious ways honestly. His uncle, Oliver Smith, was also renowned in Hatfield for his parsimony. For instance, the elder Smith is said to have employed the village tailoress to turn his coats wrong side out and remake them. Then, when he died, he left a half-million dollars to charity. The Smith Charities is still in operation today, housed in a handsome brownstone building at 51 Main Street in Northampton. Smith Vocational and Agricultural School, serving students throughout Hampshire County, is also the result of Olivers' benevolence.


"How did these Smiths, living in stingy times, and belonging to a close-fisted race, happen to give so much? Those were not stingy times; and Yankees were not, and are not a meanly selfish race. With the salt sea on one side, and a howling wilderness on the other, they had a struggle for life, such as we can but faintly imagine. Economy became a second nature, plain living a habit, running sometimes to sordidness and meanness."

Giles B. Stebbins, "The Home of Sophia and Oliver Smith," New England Magazine, October 1898



previous pagenext page

© 1997 Five Colleges, Inc.
Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation