Women's Studies

History of William Smith College and the Women's Movement


In 1906, a local businessman and nursery owner named William Smith signed a deed of gift to establish a women's college. In 1908, William Smith College, a nondenominational, liberal arts institution dedicated to educating women broadly rather than just vocationally, opened with 18 students in the charter class.

The proximity of William Smith College to Seneca Falls, N.Y., the birthplace of the suffrage movement, is no coincidence. William Smith was a strong supporter of women's rights and his friendships with suffragettes like Anna Botsford Comstock, Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller played a crucial part in his founding of a women's college.

In the 100 years since the beginning of William Smith College, both women and men have benefitted from the opportunities created by the coordinate system.

Former William Smith Dean Debra DeMeis wrote, "While founded to provide women with a sound education, William Smith College also enriched the education of Hobart men.  With the creation of William Smith College, Hobart men had the opportunity to expand their academic pursuits into the fields of sociology, biology and psychology because William Smith’s gift included the establishment of advanced departments in those areas. Similarly, the questions of the feminist movement opened new doors for men.  The option of coed housing arrived on campus and with the change Hobart men and William Smith women began to create new relationships based more on equity and respect.  Women’s redefinition of femininity encouraged men to begin to challenge the traditional choices that defined masculinity and to envision new options in the world of work and family. As women assumed leadership roles and brought changes to the campus, they also impacted the lives of Hobart men and enriched their experiences while at the Colleges and in their years after graduation."


More Info

The women of William Smith College had their own literary magazine, The Pine.

William Smith students also founded, The Wave, an alternative newspaper to ensure that women's voices were heard on campus.

Today, students may join the Women's Collective, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about women's issues.

The Women's Resource Center exists as a space for William Smith students to study, use the library or just hang out during the evening.



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