Ann Seelye Warren Turner: Column about Smith College ignored social realities of the 19th century

Last modified: Sunday, October 06, 2013

To the editor:

I was surprised by both the tone and conclusions of Mary L. Wentworth’s column, “Sophia Smith’s Dream Deferred.”

While I share her concerns that Sophia Smith’s founding role be respected, I think the article wasn’t entirely accurate on several accounts.

I am of L. Clark Seelye’s family, being his great-granddaughter, and I lived in the house he built on Round Hill. I do not question that L. Clark Seelye was both paternalistic and patriarchal in his attitudes towards women. What I object to is the column’s personal tone, which forgets that Smith’s first president was a man of his times, the 19th century. Very few men of this age would have supported educating women to either be “reformers” or take their place as wage-earners. In his home, L. Clark Seelye certainly supported the education of women, and I can remember my aunt talking about how carefully he oversaw her elementary school years. Let us not forget that this man, with others’ help, oversaw the enrollment at Smith grow from 14 to 1,635.

I also object to the characterization of Smith College being a “finishing school” for women. I wonder whether you could find any college that had as a goal educating women for careers until well into the 20th century.

Let us remember the many highly successful professional women who have graduated from Smith College. The women’s movement gained huge momentum from graduates Gloria Steinheim and Betty Friedan. Other luminaries include Jane Yolen and Madeleine L’Engle, fine writers of children’s literature; Julia Child; Nancy Reagan; Barbara Bush; Margaret Mitchell; Molly Ivens and many more.

Perhaps the culture of Smith College hasn’t always encouraged professional development in the way some might have liked, but it certainly has produced many distinguished women. And it continues to do so with a commitment to engineering, among many other rigorous disciplines.

Ann Seelye Warren Turner



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