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By Kristen Cole   Date: 7/23/10 Bookmark and Share

Contractors and College Archives Reveal John M. Greene Hall’s Early Days

This summer, as masons carefully clean years of grime off John M. Greene Hall to reveal its early splendor, the history of the assembly hall revealed itself on documents in the College Archives.

JMG restoration  
Power washing the bricks.  

Construction of the 100-year-old hall under Smith’s first president was directly linked with ensuring the college’s ability to provide women of high ability and promise an education regardless of their financial need. And that priority has assumed permanence at Smith as solid as bricks and mortar.

In 1901, an anonymous donor offered Smith $100,000 under the condition that it would be divided equally between the endowment fund and the construction of a new assembly hall if the college would secure additional donations of an equal magnitude within a year, according to records in the College Archives.

In a letter dated July 18, 1901, and addressed “To those interested in the welfare of Smith College,” President L. Clark Seelye announced the gift— a missive devoted largely to making the case for the importance of the endowment to provide access to the financially poor.

“For twenty-five years Smith College has sought to give women those advantages of a liberal arts education which have characterized the best New England colleges for men but its endowment has always been much smaller,” wrote Seelye. “An ampler fund is needed… to assist by scholarships those who are worthy of a higher education but are too poor to pay for it.”

Within a year, the anonymous donation was matched by $113,187 raised by alumnae and friends of the college, according to archival records.

And throughout the years, endowment earnings and philanthropic support have become an important support for students. Today, endowment earnings and philanthropy make up the $12,000 difference between Smith’s tuition and the actual cost of education.

After the restoration work on the building is completed in early September, the facility will host Opening Convocation, the ceremony that officially opens the academic year.

  JMG restoration
  After and before.

When students fill the hall for Opening Convocation, 22 percent of the audience will be comprised of federal Pell Grant recipients—a percentage that makes the college a national leader in creating access for low-income and first-generation students.

“The College is intended for the rich and the poor alike, and through the generosity of its founder and other benefactors, it has been able to give to all an education at less than cost,” noted Seelye, whose retirement was celebrated with the dedication of John M. Greene Hall.

“It is most desirable that it should continue to do this.”

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