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Finding Sophia Smith's Will

Sophia Smith

What began last year as a simple research project for the Class of 1958 Reunion Book soon became a mystery of statewide proportions.

Suzanne St. Pierre ’58, a retired producer for 60 Minutes, and classmate Rosalie Horne Franks sought to obtain a copy of Sophia Smith’s original last will and testament to include images of the document in their class’s Reunion Book (a commemorative volume with essays and anecdotes by class members), which they compiled and edited together.

“We wanted to include Sophia Smith’s will in the book, not only for its own merits, but also as part of our theme ‘Celebrating Our Journeys,’” explained St. Pierre.

Sophia Smith’s handwritten will (her fifth and final will, signed in March 1870), is an historic record in which she designates a bequest of $300,000 to the Board of Trustees of Smith College, among other stipulations. (View a transcript of the document from the College Archives Web site.)

“Sophia Smith’s will is an important historic document, but in many other ways it is important, especially for those of us who were students at Smith,” said St. Pierre. “It is part of our heritage. It inspires us and ignites our imagination. It is very moving to read the passages in the will in which Sophia Smith establishes the college and to realize the depth of gratitude we owe her.”

St. Pierre was dismayed, she said, when she first learned that the original will was missing from local records, and that only a printed transcript was available in College Archives.

Sample pages from Sophia Smith's handwritten last will and testament.

“No one knew what had happened to it,” said St. Pierre during her remarks describing the incident on Ivy Day. “It was not in Smith’s file in the Hampshire County Probate Court where it should have been nor was there a facsimile of it there or in the Smith Archives.”

Nanci Young, college archivist, had never seen an original of Smith’s will. “I was told by previous employees and researchers that the original may have been destroyed in a fire in Town Hall many years ago,” she said.

After some persistent sleuthing and with the assistance of Hampshire County Registrar David Sullivan, St. Pierre found Sophia’s original will in Boston, at the Supreme Judicial Court Archives of Massachusetts. The document had long ago been sent there, along with the papers of Emily Dickinson, for safekeeping in the facility’s climate-controlled vaults, reported St. Pierre.

After tracking down the document, St. Pierre and Franks produced the 1958 Reunion Book as intended, with images and excerpts from the will. The co-editors write to their classmates in the book: “A half-century ago we left Smith and began our journeys, but their genesis was in the 19th Century in a few brief passages in Sophia Smith’s will. With generosity and wisdom, she provided for ‘the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for higher education of young women…(which) shall be called The Smith College.’”

St. Pierre and her classmates then produced a bound, printed copy of the Last Will and Testament of Miss Sophia Smith as a gift to the college, and presented it to President Christ during Ivy Day on May 17. The gift is now part of College Archives.

“There is a certain thrill in tracking down information that has been difficult to find,” said St. Pierre—a similar thrill, she recalled, that she frequently felt when chasing down information for stories on 60 Minutes. “But there is great satisfaction in knowing, in this case, that Sophia Smith’s will had been found.”

8/6/08   Eric Sean Weld
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