Smith College was chartered in 1871 by Sophia Smith, the daughter of a prosperous farmer who inherited a large fortune from her family at the age of 65. Smith, who was deeply religious, decided that donating the money to a worthwhile cause would be the best way to fulfill her moral obligations and began a 9-year-long consultation with her pastor, John Greene, regarding what to do with the money.
After much deliberation, Smith left $400,000 and instructions in her will for the foundation of a women’s college with the “facilities for education equal to those afforded to young men.” Smith’s original plan was to found a school for the deaf, since she herself suffered from hearing loss, but another school for the deaf opened in the area just before her death and Smith was forced to revise her plan.
Smith College opened its doors in 1875 with 14 students and 6 faculty members. It was a monumental and groundbreaking college at the time—seeking to give women an education equal to that of their male counterparts at a time when higher education for women consisted of classes on sewing and painting.
Today, Smith is the largest of the seven sister schools with 2,600 undergraduates and 285 professors in 41 academic programs.
Smith is located in Western Massachusetts in the town of Northampton. The campus consists of 147 contiguous acres beautifully landscaped by renowned American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted and features more than 1,200 varieties of trees and shrubs.
The campus encompasses the seventh oldest botanic garden in the country, which includes a variety of specialty gardens, as well as the Lyman Plant House, a 12,000 square-foot glass conservatory. The garden is a major resource for the department of Biological Studies and allows students to analyze plant samples, study plant anatomy and observe examples of natural habitat.
On the southwest side of the campus, the buildings look out on scenic Paradise Pond. Near the pond are Smith’s boat house and the crew house where, in warmer months, the crew team can often be seen practicing.
The school’s Brown Fine Arts center features the world-famous Smith College Museum of Art, which holds nearly 24,000 objects in its collection from a variety of cultures and media. The 164,000-square-foot facility centers around a 40-foot high sky-lit atrium that serves as a year-round gathering space, uniting the art museum, art library, and art department.
Smith’s campus has seven library branches, making it the largest liberal arts library on the United States and larger than many university libraries. The branches include: the Nielson Library, Young Science Library, Hillyer Art Library, Josten Performing Arts Library, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives. Between these libraries the college’s collection numbers over 1.4 million items including books, maps, audios, videos, music, manuscripts, and more.
The Campus Center is the place to be at Smith. It has its own student-run bar in the basement and the best part is that there is no cover and the drinks are pretty inexpensive. However, it is really small and it can be hard to get in on a busy night. Also in the basement are pool and air hockey tables.
The Campus Center Café is probably the other cool place to hang out. It makes good food and people often go to hang out over some grub or to do some work. It’s a nice bright place with fluorescent seating so it helps keep you cheery and awake. People have meetings in the café often so it is common to see a mix of people (and genders) in there. Lots of local people and professors have lunch in there as well.
Chapin Lawn, when it is nice out, is always littered with students. On nice days, students can convince professors to hold class outside, too. Students nap, tan, read, eat, do work, and hang out there. Chapin Lawn is located in the middle of the campus, so it’s common to kill time there between classes with friends.
Northampton, Massachusetts, or NoHo as the locals like to call it, is a lovely, vibrant town of about 30,000 residents located in the wooded, mountainous landscape of Western Massachusetts. Its location in Pioneer Valley is prime leaf-peeping territory and the town and surrounding area is often flooded with tourists in the autumn months, all there to ogle the foliage.
The town has a thriving arts community and is home to the Paradise City Arts Festival, the #1 arts festival in the country. It’s known for having an earthy, crunchy, almost hippie-like feel and is generally regarded as a very progressive and tolerant town, no doubt in part because of its large gay and lesbian community.
Northampton has a bustling downtown area with shops, sidewalk cafes, galleries, clubs, and excellent restaurants, as well as several music venues that are a regular stop for many popular national acts. For shopping there is Thornes Marketplace, a 100-year-old department store that morphed into a 30-store indoor shopping area, as well as many smaller, local boutiques around the Main Street drag.
Downtown Northampton is where Smithies go to for a quick escape from the stress of college and to have some fun. One of the most popular off-campus hangouts is Packard’s. It’s a bar that lets in people under 21 (no alcohol though) and serves great munchies and burgers. It’s open late with a fun atmosphere. It’s cleaner and less crowded than your typical college bar and students of all ages can join in on the fun.
The most popular non-bar hangout is Haymarket, a coffee shop that serves delicious short order food. The food and drink usually run in the vein of 'earthy', which is pretty common in a town like Northampton. Students often bring work and reading to do since the quietness makes it a good place to be productive.
For a quick sugar boost, students frequent an ice cream shop called Herrell’s. It boasts homemade ice cream in flavors such as 'burnt sugar and butter' and 'Twinkie.' It gets super busy in the warmer months when the Western Massachusetts weather is hot and sticky.
Also in downtown Northampton is Faces, a clothing, knick-knack, home furnishing store known for its eclectic collection of stuff. Students end up at Faces to buy neat-looking bathroom and dorm room decorations or comfy American Apparel shirts. The variety of items in the store makes it an ideal place to browse with no real direction or purpose. It’s also a popular stop around Halloween because of the costume selection.
Finally, while it’s not a place to 'hang out' one of the other popular destinations at Smith is Rt. 9 in Hadley. It’s a major road connecting Northampton to several other towns and colleges. Rt. 9 is littered with different places to eat, such as Pizza Hut and Applebee’s and shopping stores like Target and Best Buy. There are also fun activities like roller skating in the Hampshire Mall on Rt. 9. The road is home to the Cinemark, the main multiplex in the area.
Thursday Candlelight Dinners – Until the 1970s, students had family-style dinners in their houses every night but were later discontinued in favor of wider dining choices. Thursday Candlelight Dinners continue the tradition of family-style dining and are an occasion for house bonding.
Friday Afternoon Tea – This tradition is more than 100-years-old and consists of an English-style afternoon tea to mark the end of a busy week.
Convocation – A ceremony marking the beginning of classes during which students and faculty dress in caps and gowns and gather in John M. Greene Hall the evening before classes start. There is usually an opening address and a performance by the Glee Club, as well as separate student-held festivities.
Mountain Day – A tradition since 1877, Mountain Day offers students a surprise break from classes in the fall semester. The president picks a crisp, fall day and announces the holiday by ringing the college bells, declaring classes canceled. Students typically use this day to enjoy the outdoors.
Otelia Cromwell Day – Named in honor of Smith’s first African-American alumna, this day is an annual slate of workshops, lectures, films and entertainment designed to educate students on the subjects of racism and diversity.
Rally Day – A day when distinguished alumnae are honored with medals. Students from all class years also perform a musical depicting life at Smith.
Ivy Day – Ivy Day is part of the commencement weekend at Smith. The day before commencement, alumnae escort seniors in a parade around campus. Then seniors plant ivy to symbolize the connection between the campus and its graduates.
Illumination Night – The night before commencement, the campus is lit only by colored paper lanterns.
Gloria Marie Steinem (1956) American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist.
Margaret Mitchell (1922) was the author of the famous novel "Gone with the Wind."
Julia Child (1934)was a famous chef, author and beloved TV personality. Her most memorable TV show was "The French Chef."
Betty Friedan (1942)was a noted feminist and activist. She was considered one of the leaders of the feminist movement of the 1960s. She is the author of The "Feminine Mystique."
Nancy Davis Reagan (1943) is the wife of the late Ronald Reagan and former First Lady of the United States.
Barbara Bush (1947) is the wife of George Bush Sr. and former First Lady of the United States.
Sylvia Plath (1955)was an acclaimed poet whose work includes "The Bell Jar" and "Ariel."
Smith is an NCAA Division III college and offers one of the most broad-based athletic programs for women in the country. There are 14 intercollegiate teams on campus: basketball, crew, cross country, equestrian, field hockey, lacrosse, skiing, soccer, softball, squash, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. There is also an active culture of club and intramural sports.
The Smith mascot is the Pioneer and the school colors are white, gold, and blue.
Athletics are not very popular at Smith. People may attend some sporting events, especially when Smith plays against its rival, Mount Holyoke, but as a whole, athletic events are not very popular. Even lacrosse is not a widely attended event (despite what The Simpsons may suggest)-
The 2008 commencement speaker was Margaret Edson.
The 1966 movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was filmed on the Smith campus.
The popular memoir/novel Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs is set in Northampton and features several scenes on the Smith campus.
Emily Gilmore from the show Gilmore Girls attends Smith College and majors in History.
Smith’s residential facilities consist of 36 self-governing houses, ranging in size from 10 to 100 students. Until 2002, each house was equipped with its own dining hall and a kitchen staff who prepared nightly buffet-style meals (except on Thursdays when all Smith students participate in family-style candlelit dinners). Recently, however, several of the dining halls were removed in favor of more housing and now only 15 of the houses have dining halls.
Smith College is extremely unique in that it does not have typical college-style dormitories. Instead, Smith students live in actual homes. Smith housing is often voted as some of the best college living situations in the nation. Some of the houses on campus were donated to the college and others were built by the college itself.
Smith College houses vary in size, style, and atmosphere. The smaller houses on campus tend to be specialty houses, meaning that there is a theme to the house. For example, Tenney House is a small house of 14 people that functions as a co-op. Students in Tenney shop for and cook their own vegan/vegetarian food and are responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of their home. Other specialty houses include Dawes House, which is the house where members speak only French, and Hopkins House is also a co-op similar to Tenney House, but is not limited to vegetarian/vegan food.
In general, students live houses with 50 or 60 other students and houses usually up to about 80 people. Different areas on campus attract different types of students, which creates a specific atmosphere or community for each area. Houses on Green Street are close to the Science Quad and tend to attract busy and studious science students. The opposite of that is the Quad, which boasts the largest number of students per house and is often referred to as the most typical “college dorm” because of its size and 'work hard, party harder' community. Individual houses have reputations as well, such as Capen House, which has a reputation as a rebellious house or Sessions House, which is allegedly haunted.
The fact that Smith students live in homes and small communities creates a very cozy mood. Traditions like Senior Banquet and house tea also help foster a close sense of community. It is common for students to at least recognize their housemates, if not know them by name. The house communities usually stop short of becoming cliquey or taking on a sorority feeling. House communities are small and welcoming, but certainly not exclusive. Dining halls don’t exist in each house so some houses migrate to other dining halls which can help facilitate inter-house community.