Leading Women


by Kathy Killius Regan '82 and Cathy Williams

The William Smith Centennial is our opportunity to make a difference. More than any other moment in the past 100 years, now is the time for all William Smith women to harness our combined talents and take a leadership role in the Colleges' future. There are dozens of ways to get involved, from volunteering or hosting events to serving on committees or supporting the Centennial philanthropically.

Through the course of conversations with alumnae, students, the President and Provost, we have chosen Leading Women as the Centennial theme. Leading Women points to both the way in which William Smith College guides women in their formative years and how these women, armed with a background of scholarship, experience and success, go on to become leaders.

In coordination with hundreds of William Smith graduates, trustees and students, we kicked off the Centennial Celebration at Founder's Day last December to mark the occasion of William Smith's gift. The Centennial celebration will conclude in September 2008 with a big all-campus, all community bash including all alumnae and alumni on the 100th Anniversary of the matriculation of the first William Smith class. In between these two events, there will be celebrations throughout the country and on campus. Visit the Centennial Web site for details. Plan to join us as we commemorate 100 years of Leading Women!

William Smith was born in 1818 in Kent, England, the eldest son of a wood trader. After the death of his father, he worked to support his mother and siblings. He had no formal education beyond the age of eight. Despite these humble beginnings, at the age of 88, Smith donated close to half a million dollars (about $12 million in today's market) to found the college that bears his name.


Smith came to the United States from England in 1843. After working for a Geneva nurseryman, he and his two brothers started their own nursery just ten miles west of Seneca Falls, the site of the first Women's Rights Convention in 1848.

It was through a natural talent with plants and a keen knowledge of business that Smith was able to accumulate a sizeable fortune. For the betterment of his community, he built the Smith Opera House and an observatory, helped organize the Standard Optical Company, and was director of the First National Bank of Geneva.

After the death of his mother, Smith turned to Spiritualism for comfort. Through this shared interest, he met Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller. The two had a deep impact on him. The elder Miller was the daughter of a Congressman and abolitionist whose childhood home was a station on the Underground Railroad. Her cousin was women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is probable that in his many visits to the Miller home on Seneca Lake, Smith had an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and others. He was active in the women's movement and often donated the use of the Opera House for suffragette lectures.

The Millers introduced Smith to Anna Botsford Comstock, head of the nature study department at Cornell University. Together, these three women guided Smith in his decision to found a nondenominational, liberal arts institution dedicated to educating women broadly, not just vocationally.

In 1908, William Smith College opened with 18 students in the charter class, although there were 20 by the end of the year. The College was founded adjacent to Hobart and entered into a coordinate arrangement that is now unique among American colleges.

Smith delighted in the success of his charter class, commenting in a letter to Comstock that he had heard from the faculty that William Smith students were doing better than Hobart students. He invited the charter class to his home and visited them on the Hill. When it was time to build a second residence for them, he donated the funds to create Elizabeth Smith Miller House. William Smith died on February 6, 1912 at the age of 93, four months shy of witnessing the graduation of his inaugural class.

Moving Up

Comstock wrote: "There never lived a man more broad minded and high minded in his regard for women than William Smith."

Just as William Smith College's founding was greatly influenced by the women's rights movement, so too has its existence been shaped by the events of the past century. Those who have been at the center of changing the role of women in society have come to the College to reflect on their work, share ideas and offer advice. They include women who have taken on careers traditionally assigned to men, like anthropologist Margaret Mead and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as those who have dedicated themselves to advocacy, like feminist Gloria Steinem and activist Angela Davis.

The women who have graduated from the College have taken this advice and done remarkable things. At a time when it was unusual for women to work, many of the earliest William Smith College graduates became teachers, scientists, social workers, doctors, nurses, painters and dancers. Lydia Gibson Dawes '18 received her MD from Yale, studied with Anna Freud in Vienna, and was the first child psychiatrist at Children's Hospital, Boston. Mary Louise Kirkland '27 was an opera singer. Helen Reid '19 was an agricultural advocate. Susanna Kingsley '16 was an advertising writer in New York City. Genevieve McCarthy '15 owned and ran her own travel agency. Betty Sweet Christiansen '16 was a political activist. The list goes on and on.

To learn more about the history of William Smith College, read biographies of remarkable alumnae, and participate in online conversations about the Centennial, go to www.hws.edu/Centennial.

Catalysts For Change: A Case for the Centennial Fund

"Because the Centennial is happening concurrently with Campaign for the Colleges, it provides William Smith women with a tremendous opportunity to support the campaign and honor the Centennial at the same time," says Mara O'Laughlin '66, assistant vice president of Institutional Advancement for the Centennial Fund and the former director of Admissions. "The theme for the Centennial is 'Leading Women.' And that's what the Centennial Fund will support - the cultivation of leadership. William Smith alumnae need to focus our resources and invest in the future of our students."

"The fact is that our demographics are changing," adds Maureen Collins Zupan '72, P'09, the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees and a member of the Centennial Fund Committee. "Historically, we've always had small classes in comparison to Hobart. Today, women make up 56% of the student body. The future of the institution will more and more depend on women. This is our time. We must become involved and engaged."


For the past two years, under O'Laughlin's direction and in conversation with hundreds of alumnae, the Centennial Fund has taken shape. In all, William Smith College intends to attract $15 million to the campaign with $8 million earmarked for the establishment of a new CenCent Fundtennial Center for Leadership to be located at 603 South Main Street. To date, a total of $12 million including $5.3 million dedicated to the Center for Leadership has been raised. It is the College's intention to use these funds to more deliberately guide Hobart and William Smith students in understanding the concept of leadership, to create opportunities for them to study with experienced and successful women leaders, and to provide them with empirical leadership-building opportunities.

"The Centennial Center for Leadership will gather under one roof our efforts to prepare students for the leadership responsibilities they undertake on campus, in the community, and in their future careers," says Provost Teresa Amott. "The effect will be a more sophisticated, intentional and coherent program to develop our students' communication skills and their capacities for critical and strategic thinking, and ethical judgment and action."

The Centennial Center for Leadership, located between Alumni House and the Finger Lakes Institute (see the current building below as well as an architect's rendering of the proposed space, right) will be renovated into a multi-use facility to be used for programs; office space for administrative support and operations, and archival displays of William Smith history. Plans also include an addition to serve as a classroom/conference center.

"People who haven't returned to the Colleges in a long time need to know how far the school has come. I feel that HWS has grown up in a way and just gotten better. When you understand that, you want to jump in and contribute."

Pull Quote

The Centennial Fund will support a fulltime director and a rotating Leadership Chair, ideally for a woman of prominence. The Leadership designee will be invited to offer classes, seminars, workshops or public lectures, whatever is most appropriate given her expertise.

Honorary Trustee Judy Haslam Cross '52, P'85, L.H.D. '00, a member of the Centennial Honorary Committee, says: "What really interested me was that this program will connect students and the greater Geneva community with national experts. I've seen how successful similar programs can be and I can't wait to see the outcomes at the Colleges."

"I believe that the Centennial Center for Leadership will further our understanding of leadership and the complex role gender plays in leadership identity," says Peggy Bokan Greenawalt '66, a donor and member of the Centennial Fund Committee.

"The Center can teach women to become catalysts for change." The William Smith Centennial Fund will also endow Centennial undergraduate fellows, alumnae fellows and scholarships. "We've all come out of the same soil," says O'Laughlin. "William Smith prepared us to stand on our own two feet, to be leaders. This is the time to reaffirm for the 21st century all of the good that came out of William Smith's original gift. It's time for 9,000 women to thank one man for his generosity."

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.