Sophia Smith (1796 - 1870) MP

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Birthdate:
Death: Died
Occupation: Founder of Smith College • Founder of Smith Academy
Managed by: Walter G. Ashworth
Last Updated:
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About Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith (August 27, 1796 in Hatfield, Massachusetts - June 12, 1870) founded Smith College in 1870 with the substantial estate she inherited from her father and siblings.

American philanthropist whose inherited fortune allowed her to bequeath funds for the founding of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Smith was the daughter of a prosperous farmer. Although she enjoyed the rural social life of her native Hatfield, she did not marry. She became deaf at the age of 40 and thereafter stayed at home much of the time. Her father died in 1836, leaving a substantial estate to his four children, three of whom continued to live on the family farm. Sophia’s energetic younger sister, Harriet, died in 1859, and her brothers Joseph and Austin, the latter of whom had greatly multiplied his inheritance through shrewd stock speculation, followed in 1861.

At age 65 the retiring Sophia Smith was left with a fortune. The responsibility of using it wisely caused her to seek the advice of the pastor of the Hatfield Congregational Church, John Morton Greene. She declined to contribute money to Amherst College (his alma mater) or to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (his wife’s), whereupon he suggested the foundation of a women’s college. She inclined rather to the endowment of an institution for deaf-mutes and drew up her will accordingly, but the opening of the Clarke School for the Deaf in nearby Northampton in 1868 turned her thoughts back to a women’s college. Greene and two Amherst professors drew up a “Plan for a Woman’s College,” which Smith accepted and incorporated into a new will. A last revision of her will in 1870 provided that the college should be located in Northampton rather than in Hatfield. She died that year, and her bequest for the college amounted to more than $393,000 (a couple of billion dollars today). Smith College was accordingly chartered in 1871 and opened in 1875 with 14 students; it went on to become one of the leading women’s colleges in the nation.

"Sophia Smith remembered her grandmother [Mary Morton Smith] well. She used to say: 'I looked up to my grandmother with great love and reverence. She more than once put her hand on my head and said, "I want you should grow up and be a good woman and try to make the world better." -- Rev. John M. Greene, An Address at the Centennial of the Birth of Sophia Smith, 27 May 1896

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Sophia Smith's Timeline

1796
August 27, 1796
1870
June 12, 1870
Age 73