Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Visit to Smith College

The Alumnae Gymnasium, which houses the Sophia Smith Collection (archives).

We drove to Smith College in Northampton on Tuesday, where I visited the archives, requesting the boxes that held Dr. Jane Kelly Sabine's materials; she was in the class of 1888, the college's tenth graduating class. I was wide-eyed with excitement when the archivist appeared at our table with several big file boxes on a rolling cart, and then hand-carried a large volume on its own wooden stand, opened to the page recording Jane's transcript, detailing her four years of studies. I photographed everything, of course.

In the first box, we found several prints of Jane's graduation portrait. I was surprised to discover that it is the same photo she used for her engagement portrait twelve years later. There were also group class photos and many ornately typeset materials documenting the graduation ceremonies over several days: invitations, menus, lengthy newspaper accounts, speech transcripts, lyrics to class and school songs, and even a dance card with a pencil and cord.

In another box, I found files of various class reunions. Jane received an honorary degree at her 50th reunion, in 1938 and there are several photos of her then, when she was 75, with her white hair twisted up into the very same top-knot she wore in her college days. (She was 25 when she graduated).

But the best thing, the most wonderful surprise, appeared next. Inside three of the boxes were dozens of small, paperbound booklets of class letters — one for each year from 1888 to 1953 (Jane died in 1950). And in nearly every booklet I found a letter from Jane to her classmates. I photographed the cover of each booklet and her corresponding letter in chronological order. Since I had a meeting back in Boston in the late afternoon, I needed to work fast, with no time to read more than a snippet here and there. I never dreamed there would be so much material.

I read all of her letters later, after I processed my photos. To me, they are a goldmine of information about this remarkable woman, whose parlor is now my living room. While I can't reproduce anything here without the college's permission, I hope to share some of my discoveries with you soon.


  1. I love Northampton and Smith in particular. As a seven sisters' alum it's so nice to see these schools mentioned! I can't wait to see what you discovered.

  2. sounds like you hit the jackpot!

  3. I love reading about what you've learned about the Sabines. It makes me hope to someday live in a place with its own history for me to investigate! What fun!


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