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Founding of Smith College 

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    "0 I wish 
    That I were some great princess, I would build
    Far off from men a college like a man's,
    And I would teach them all that men are taught;
    We are twice as quick!"

    -- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Princess: A Medley" (Prologue), 1847-1853.
    Published in Enoch Arden &tc., a book owned by Sophia Smith.

    See "Sophia's Choice," a bibliography of her books.

    "Then I told her if I had anything to do with the matter she must first settle it in her mind that she herself was responsible for the disposition of the property. God had allowed her brother Austin to accumulate it, but evidently He appointed her as the one to determine the uses to which it should be put." 

    -- Rev. John M. Greene, "Journal," 1 July 1861

For help with her decision for the disposition of her fortune, Sophia Smith turned to her pastor, John Morton Greene, as well as other advisors. Among the options considered were bequests to Amherst College (Rev. Greene's alma mater) and to the nearby Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which had been educating young women since 1837. 

Initially, Sophia settled on a variety of projects, including a school for the deaf -- a logical choice in light of her own struggles with impaired hearing. Smith College may, at least in part, owe its very existence to the fact that John Clarke died before she did, endowing a school for the deaf (today the acclaimed Clarke School in Northampton) and prompting Sophia to abandon her plan.

The "Last Will and Testament of Miss Sophia Smith" was not completed until March of 1870, only three months before she died but nine years (and many revisions) after first meeting about the matter with John Greene. This final version supported "the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for the education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men."

The will also made three gifts to religious societies and eighteen female relatives, and it provided for the establishment of the Smith Academy in Hatfield for the education of both sexes, animated GIF imagerequiring, too, that "the number of female teachers shall be equal or one less than that of the male teachers" and that the female teachers must have a voice in the management of the School...."

When Sophia Smith died in June 1870, her obituary appeared in the same issue of the Hampshire Gazette and Northampton Courier that announced the death of Charles Dickens and the first annual meeting of theWomen's Suffrage Committee of Hampshire County. Her estate was larger than people had thought.

The claim is justly made for the old town of Northampton, Massachusetts, that it makes provisions for a wide variety of earthly needs. It contains a lunatic asylum, an institute for the deaf and dumb, a water cure establishment -- and a girls' college.
    Douglas Z. Doty, "Life at a Girls' College," Munsey's Magazine, September 1897

The Question of Location

As originally conceived in an 1868 version of her will, the college was to be located "on or near Main Street" in Sophia Smith's home town of Hatfield. However, John M. Greene and other "friends of the college" felt this would be a disastrous mistake. Some advocated situating it in larger cities such as Worcester or Springfield; others believed the location should be determined by the board of trustees -- in which case, Sophia Smith feared, the "Amherst professors" on the board would manage to make her college an adjunt of either Amherst College or Mount Holyoke Seminary. John M. Greene, seeking compromise, set about in February of 1869 to secure Northampton for the site, and wrote a series of letters to Sophia Smith proposing the change.

More on Hatfield vs. Northampton

Smith College was chartered in 1871 and opened in 1875. While most would agree that the college embodies the values and vision inherent in its earliest blueprint, some scholars question whether Sophia Smith herself conceived this pathbreaking plan or whether she merely endorsed an idea proposed by Reverend Greene. The wording of the will may likewise be Sophia's own -- or may not be. And while Sophia Smith has been described as yielding and submissive, there is evidence that her interest in women and their academic aspirations was genuine and longstanding.

John M. Greene outlived his parishioner by fifty years and recorded the history of the development of the college as he remembered it. The trustees appointed in Sophia's will, including Greene, and the president they hired, L. Clark Seelye,
built the college using Sophia's vision as its foundation, and the new institution grew rapidly to be one of the largest and most respected colleges for women in the world.

"It ought to be stated here that Smith College is not to be a rival to Mount Holyoke Seminary or in any way unfriendly to it. It purposes to open a course of study upon which such of the graduates of Mount Holyoke, Bradford, &c., as choose can enter and proceed much further than women have been able to pursue their studies in any institution in our country. It is no more an antagonist of Mount Holyoke Seminary than Harvard College is to Phillips Academy, or our High school."

    Anonymous editorial opinion, 
    Lowell Daily Citizen and News,
    8 October 1872


Last Will and Testament of Sophia Smith, 1873

"Smith College," an article appearing in Scribner's Monthly, May 1877 Early editorial opinions about Smith College

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Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation