S is for SMITH COLLEGE

I first saw Smith College in May of 1980 when my aunt graduated. She had gone back to finish her degree after having a family, and we came up for graduation weekend. I was in 8th grade and fell in love with the campus. In 3 years, when it came time to look at colleges, I didn’t go anywhere else. Saving my parents and myself a ton of money on application fees, I applied early decision and got accepted in the fall of my senior year. My grandmother, who also attended Smith, sent me a letter telling me about how she felt when she was first accepted and how an aunt had helped her monetarily through college. Gran wanted to do the same for me by helping me with book costs (which add up very quickly, I might add!) Every Fall and Spring, I would buy my books and send her a list. Then, about a week later, I would get a check in the mail for them. She loved seeing what I was reading and which classes I was taking.


Leaving for my freshman year was horrible. I’d never really been away before. My mother and my sister drove me from NJ to MA. I can still see my father standing in the driveway with tears rolling down his face. The first few months were difficult – unlike one of my sisters, who makes it look so easy, I am not the type to walk into a room and start talking to strangers. However, I slowly made friends in my house, Northrop House – Nightmare on Elm Street – as we referred to it – and the friendships grew into strong bonds. I stayed in Northrop for all four years, winding up as vice president of the house my senior year.

I originally planned to study Pre-Med … that lasted through the first semester of my freshman year. I was coming from a small Catholic High School where I took advanced classes and did well without much effort. When I got to Smith, I only had four classes (Chemistry, Biology, Calculus and Italian) – how hard could it be? I nearly flunked out! I remember studying for 9 hours straight for that damn Chemistry final – did no good. So after the first semester, my mother suggested I might want to try something a little less science oriented and got me signed up for a history class, a music class (studying the history of opera) – stuff I could at least get my head around. And starting my sophomore year, I fell head first into English Literature and English History, and never looked back. However, over the four years, I managed to take classes in every discipline Smith offered, except Education (which would turn out to be the basis of my Master’s Degree several years down the road).

But Smith wasn’t only about going to classes. HHG mentions some on her blog. Mountain Day was always one of my favorites. The college administration would plan one day in the middle of the fall that was a free day – for students to do as they wished. Bells rang out across the campus and you knew that the day was yours. You could go look at foliage (and my freshman year, I actually climbed a mountain to see the leaves), or you could just veg, or finish that paper that was due …. My senior year, we had a new college president who was brought in to save money. So many great traditions that made Smith unique were disappearing and one she was rumored to be getting rid of was Mountain Day. Some friends and I took great offense to that, and decided to declare our own Mountain Day. We talked our way into broke into several key spots around campus that had the bells and rang them to pronounce the day! Unfortunately the group that were alerting the Quad got caught and so our plot was revealed. We were very lucky not to have been expelled – I think it helped that the group were all serious students and that we had the president, vice president, and head resident of one of the houses, not to mention some one who was destined to be president of the college student council the next year, as members. After meeting with the administration, we wrote a letter to the school newspaper, calling ourselves the Quasimodo Society, explaining why we had done what we did. We were trying to get the college to realize that these traditions were important to the students and we weren’t ready to give them up, even if we had to carry them on by ourselves.


Graduation weekend is a big deal at Smith. The parade on Ivy Day (the Saturday before graduation) is beautiful if you are just observing it but gut wrenching if you are participating in it. My senior year, I cried through the whole thing. The seniors line up on both sides of the path all around campus dressed in white. Then all the alumnae who have come back walk through the
seniors showing all that has come before them. Some are pushed in wheelchairs and some are using walkers with nurses beside them but they come back to walk. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother walk for my Ivy Day as class of 1932, then my mother as class of 1959, and my aunt as class of 1980. All that history and just from my family. It really is emotional. I experienced it on the other side in 1991 when I was the one walking through the lines of seniors for my sister’s graduation, again crying. Then that night they light up the campus with chinese lanterns and it turns into a fairyland. Graduation in the quad on Sunday – I remember my brother running up to me in line with a huge bouquet of flowers.

I sometimes dream of going back to Smith, but I’m back at 18. I don’t know if I could do it as my aunt did, as an Ada Comstock Scholar (women who are coming back to school after having careers or families). The Smith I loved was for younger women without all the responsibilities of adulthood. However, I am feeling the need to go back and just walk the campus. In writing this, I tried to find pictures to post, but I didn’t take any while I was there, and I couldn’t find ones that I really liked on the web. I guess I’ll have to go on a photo jaunt and kill two birds with one stone.
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3 Responses to “S is for SMITH COLLEGE”

  1. cjohnson Says:

    If at all possible, you should definitely go back and walk the campus! You will probably find it is difficult to be there without the way things were when you were a student, but now you will be able to experience Smith in a new way and with a new perspective on then and now. It’ll be an amazing experience to have and to write about it. Come to visit my blog about books, words and the writing life at http://www.wildwoodpress.org.

  2. sheoflittlebrain Says:

    R for reading! Yes!!I enjoyed reading about your experience at Smith, and can only imagine how wonderful you must have felt in that traditional parade along with the women in your family who preceded you at your college. I’m a sucker for tradition and history..love the Quasimodo Society story

  3. Hey Teach! Says:

    remember playing spoons…and nancy with the pink flamingo???

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