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History Celebrated on the Hill

Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2008

One hundred years ago, higher education was reserved mostly for men and a high tea would have been a women's event. Yesterday afternoon on the hill, Hobart and William Smith alums, students, faculty, staff and members of the community celebrated a shift in history by first dedicating the statue of a man who emphatically supported higher education for women, and then enjoying a high tea in which men and women mingled and spoke of the wonderful weekend ahead.

At 4 p.m. on the hill still considered a spot specifically for the women of William Smith College, a sculpture of William Smith, a nurseryman, suffragist and educational proponent, was unveiled and dedicated amidst a grove of autumnal trees.

"It's a privilege to be President of William Smith College as it celebrates its Centennial," said Mark D. Gearan, president of the Colleges. "What better way to celebrate the start of this wonderful weekend of celebration than to dedicate this statue?"

The 6-foot, lifelike bronze statue was sculpted by A.E. "Ted" Aub, professor of art, using photographs of William Smith and models that included Christopher Slaby, a Hobart senior, and Ted Smith, William Smith's great, grandnephew who lives in Geneva.

"Today as we celebrate the foresight and vision of our founder, it is fitting that we dedicate this sculpture," said Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan '72, P'09 at the opening of the ceremony. "We have come a long way in the 100 years since the local Geneva businessman had the vision to create a school for women at a time before women could vote. Now, William Smith, the statue, will sit proudly on our hill to witness the next 100 years."

Jim Spates, professor of sociology, and former Board of Trustees member Dr. Todd A. Patterson '72, P'06, P'12 started the initiative to commission the statue.

William Smith Statue

"This statue is a gift from the men of Hobart to honor the women of William Smith, in recognition of the role William Smith women have played in the success of our institution," said Patterson, after which the statue was unveiled to a round of applause and audible admiration.

President of the Alumnae Association Katherine R. MacKinnon '77 thanked Aub and those responsible for the statue and read the inscription, noting, "William Smith was a visionary. As generations of students walk past this beautiful statue, they will be reminded of the commitment and dedication he had to the education of women and creation of William Smith College."

Aub explained the challenges of creating the sculpture, including having very few likenesses of William Smith to work with, and his choices in how he depicted Smith.

"I found it inspiring that Smith, at a very advanced age, undertook the immense task of starting a college - he was in his late eighties. Therefore, I chose to depict him at the end of his abundant life. Though elderly, he is active - he moves slowly forward and upward."

The incline in the statue, he explained, referred to the hill, and is also a metaphor suggesting life's changes. In deference to his work as a nurseryman, Aub chose to place two elements related to trees in Smith's hands. One hand holds a walking stick, the other holds a pinecone, itself full of metaphor as a symbol of William Smith College, a symbol of possibility (it holds the seeds), and as the fruit "borne of mature pine" that holds the promise of continuity.  Aub explained that the incorporation of the pinecone builds into the sculpture the "cyclical idea of birth and death and rebirth" inherent in a pine and pinecone.

high tea

After pausing to admire the new sculpture on the hill, celebrants moved on to the high tea in Comstock Hall, sponsored by the students who created and are living in the Centennial Leadership House.

"I think, especially for us living in the Centennial House, it's been amazing to be part of this celebration," said Kelly Biggs '11. "I don't think we even realize what a role we're all playing in the College's history right now. This is so important to all of us at HWS."

Housemate Cara Walden '11 agreed. "It's an exciting time to be at a women's college. We've had women studying for 100 years while similar institutions only started to admit them in the '50s."

"This whole weekend is special to any of us," said Elizabeth "Taffy" Smith Sibbett '50.

A number of Hobart men, alums and family members attended the tea, including Charles Abbott '41. "I gotta go to see that," he recalled thinking when he received his invitation. Abbott remembers that when he was a student there were roughly 250 Hobart men and 150 William Smith women, "A terrible shortage of girls," he laughed. "It was a nice, small school then and the students I've met today are all still so friendly and helpful."

Interim Dean of William Smith Cerri Banks spoke at the event addressed the overflowing crowd in Comstock Living Room. "Who could have picked a better year to be Dean?" She said this weekend is "evidence of the importance of women's education."

"Ours is a magnificent sisterhood," said Banks, before introducing the William Smith a cappella group ‘3 Miles Lost' who sang the alma mater and took their place in history as something else that would have been unheard of 100 years ago - a performance by 14 educated women with boundless possibilities and a bright future of accomplishment who had just voted in a U.S. Presidential Election.

 


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