College’s donation expands Hatfield Historical Museum’s Sophia Smith collection

  • Kathie Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum, holds a triptych with Sophia Smith in the middle and pictures of the homestead on Main Street in Hatfield on either side. This item was one recently donated by Smith College to the museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum, talks about two items, the brass tray and candlewick trimmer along with a candle holder which were part of the Sophia Smith collection owned by Smith College. The college recently donated the items to the museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathie Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum, holds a sampler they believe was made by Sophia Smith and was one of the items recently donated by Smith College to the museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A brass tray and candlewick trimmer along with a candle holder which were part of the Sophia Smith collection owned by Smith College and recently donated to the Hatfield Historical Museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Some items that were part of the Smith College Sophia Smith collection that were recently donated by the college to the Hatfield Historical Museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A brass tray and candlewick trimmer along with a candle holder which were part of the Sophia Smith collection owned by Smith College and recently donated to the Hatfield Historical Museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathie Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum, holds a triptych with Sophia Smith in the middle and pictures of the homestead on Main Street in Hatfield on either side. The item was one recently donated by Smith College to the museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Some items that were part of the Smith College Sophia Smith collection and recently donated by the college to the Hatfield Historical Museum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2021 8:35:14 PM

HATFIELD — Growing up in the early 19th century, Smith College founder Sophia Smith, like other young girls of her time, learned needlework, cross-stitching the names of her parents and siblings, and their birth dates, on a piece of fabric.

The family sampler heirloom, made around 1806 when Smith would have been 9 or 10 years old, is part of a recent gift of 30 or so items to the Hatfield Historical Society from Smith College that Kathie Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum, says will allow the museum to offer a more comprehensive understanding of Smith’s life.

“This sampler, with its Smith family register, is very exciting for us because it’s one of the few artifacts we have from Sophia’s youth,” Gow said. “Together with the other textiles in this collection, it presents a side of Sophia we have not yet explored.”

The donation, including textiles, such as silk fabric from a Sophia Smith dress and a pillowcase, silver and pewter tableware, glassware and ceramics, metal tools, furniture, daguerreotypes, and framed illustrations from Godey’s Ladies Book magazine, more than doubles the Smith-related items in the museum.

“Adding these artifacts to others in our collection will help us present a richer narrative about Sophia Smith and her family,” Gow said.

Smith College, chartered in 1871 through a $393,105 bequest from Smith’s estate, announced this week that the items belonging to Smith and her family are being donated to the museum, owned by the town and managed by the nonprofit Hatfield Historical Society.

Denise Wingate Materre, vice president for alumnae relations at Smith College, said Hatfield and its historical society are best positioned to preserve and interpret Sophia Smith’s historic artifacts as they curate the story of her life. The items had previously been kept at the college’s Alumnae House on Elm Street in Northampton.

“We are thrilled to join together items that had been in our care with a larger collection of objects related to Sophia and her family,” Materre said.

The donated items, which are not part of the college’s archives, require environments appropriate to their preservation and care.

Gow said a lot of work will go into learning more about the donations.

“We can start doing our own research on the pieces now,” Gow said.

With respect to the family sampler, for instance, Gow said it was likely created around the same time as a similar sampler the museum already possesses from Hannah Wells, who was born a year and a day earlier than Smith and later married her brother Joseph Smith.

A doll that is part of the donation may have been Sophia Smith’s, and Gow said the fabrics and other aspects of it will be examined.

Some of the items donated, such as a brass tray and a candlewick trimmer, expand the collection of Smith family items. Those belonged to Oliver Smith, Sophia Smith’s uncle whose legacy includes Smith Charities and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

A pair of eyeglasses believed to be Smith’s are placed on a table next to her ear trumpet, a sort of hearing aid she began using when she went deaf.

“Having personal things, like the spectacles, makes her a real person,” Gow said.

A permanent section of the museum could perhaps be focused on Sophia Smith with the donation.

“Now that we have these additional items it will make it much easier for us to do that,” Gow said.

Amy Hahn, chairwoman of the Hatfield Historical Commission, said in a statement that the town is grateful to the college for expanding the artifacts of one of the town’s famed residents.

“The importance of Sophia Smith’s legacy to the town of Hatfield and the significance of her contribution to the education of women cannot be overstated,” Hahn said.

The museum, on the upper level of the Hatfield Public Library, is also just a short distance from the home where Smith lived from her birth until a few years before her death. That home was built between 1755 and 1763 by Nathaniel Dickinson, who sold it in 1789 to her father.

Now more of Smiths’s belongings will be in Hatfield.

“It’s wonderful that the college gave back to place where they came from,” Gow said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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