Exhibit honoring Frank Ellis is on view in Neilson

Legendary Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature and generous library supporter passed away in November. Exhibit in Morgan Gallery, 1st floor.

Frank Hale Ellis as portrayed on the dust jacket of the 2006 German edition of Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub, which he edited.


Frank Hale Ellis, 91, the Mary Augusta Jordan Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at Smith College, died at home in Northampton on November 16, 2007. He had been in declining health since a fall in January 2006.

Frank had a justly deserved international reputation as an avid collector of books and political pamphlets from the late Stuart and early Augustan periods of English history. His extensive collection, acknowledged to be the best in private hands, has been left to Smith College, where it will reside in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, where he held the position of Adjunct Curator of Queen Anne Pamphlets and took tea at four o’clock every afternoon. (Search the Five College Library Catalog for the Frank H. Ellis Collection.) The gift of his library, however, was not the sum of his generosity to Smith. Over the years he made numerous gifts to Neilson Library, the Art Museum, and to students in need, all anonymously or in memory of his wife of 50 years, Constance Dimock Ellis, who predeceased him in 1991. In addition, he was an avid booster of the United Way and enjoyed a long tenure leading its annual campaign at the college.

Frank Hale Ellis, author portrait on the dust jacket of his edition of A Tale of a Tub which was published in Germany in 2006.
A native of Evanston, Illinois, Frank received a B.S. at Northwestern University in 1939, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and later an M.A. from Yale. His progress toward the Ph.D. was interrupted by World War II, in which he served with distinction in Europe and in the Pacific theater.

Upon return to civilian life Frank took up a position as Instructor in the English Department at Yale, while completing his work for the Ph.D., which he received in 1948. He stayed on at Yale as an Assistant Professor until, once more, his career was interrupted, this time by his being recruited in 1951 by the State Department as a Foreign Service Political Officer in Brussels.

After returning from Belgium, Frank worked in the private sector as a copper trader when, in 1958, he was once more recruited, this time by the English department at Smith College, where he began a distinguished career that lasted up to and well beyond his retirement in 1986. His reputation as a teacher was exceeded only by his prolific scholarship as both author and editor, having published a dozen books and more than fifty articles and reviews in major journals. His area of expertise was late 17th and early 18th century English literature, principally political poetry. Among his major works are two volumes of the Yale edition of Poems on Affairs of State and his editions of the works of the Earl of Rochester and Jonathan Swift. Owing to his unflagging scholarly energy, Frank saw the publication of his edition of Swift’s Tale of a Tub earlier this year, and he was nearing completion of a biography of Rochester at the time of his death.

Frank was legendary in the Smith community for his weekly schedule, maintained religiously until he was ninety: three days a week at the college gym and seven days a week at his office. On one of his research trips to London he was heard to say that there was nothing to do on Sundays because all the libraries were closed. Then, too, there was his devotion to Amherst College football, his bi-weekly poker game, his visits to the races at the Three County Fair, and his trips to the Red Sox spring training camps in Florida almost every year in the 1980s. He stopped going only because he became disillusioned with baseball once the American League instituted the designated hitter. From that time on Frank could be seen driving around town with a “Ban the D.H.” bumper sticker. He was a man of strong opinions, some of which have no place in this obituary notice.

He is survived by his daughter Gay Ellis and son-in-law Robert Brown of Sheffield, Vermont; his two grandchildren, Zeke Brown and Amy Brown; his two great-grandchildren; and his cousin, Jason Ellis. Memorial contributions in Frank’s name may be made to the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College.


Mortimer Rare Book Room
Neilson Library
(413) 585-2906