Century of Class Notes
the most popular section in the Smith
or in most alumnae magazines, for that matter. The class
notes—pages, toward the back of every edition,
of snippets telling of milestones in the lives of alumnae, divided by class.
Class notes report big moments:
marriages, job assignments, children’s births,
grandchildren, travel, notable accomplishments, awards, advanced degrees, honors
and accolades, and of course, deaths.
But as John MacMillan, editorial
director of alumnae communications, explains, “Smith’s class notes are unlike any other.
They go beyond the standard things. Smith women are wonderfully candid and honest
about their lives.”
MacMillan would know. He spent
the early part of his career at Smith editing class notes. “Class notes are a conversation among classmates and friends,” he
says. “It’s the equivalent of being back in your house at Smith and sitting around
the dinner table discussing your life.”
Taken cumulatively, class notes
about an alumna add up to a record of an entire life.
is exactly what is contained in the class notes archive,
a card catalog collection of all class notes as published
in all the SAQs from 1906, when the magazine first appeared,
up to the early 2000s, when the system was digitized.
to the meticulous work of Alumnae Association staffers and
student interns during most the 20th century, every clipping
from class notes is pasted chronologically on cards pertaining
to alumnae from each class. Thousands of cards fill a bank
of filing cabinets in the basement of the Alumnae House,
each one providing snapshots of a life at different stages.
From 1924: Marjorie
Adams ‘22, “after a wonderful
year in the Green Mountain State (which I adore!) is taking
the hygiene course at Wellesley, and is most enthusiastic
about it.” Adams’ card also contains her
obituary, from December 5, 1994.
From 1960: “Climbing 99 steps daily to their
front door are Helen (Waterman ’49) Metcalf and husband John, a lieut. com. in
the Navy. They live in a Japanese house in a Japanese neighborhood and are trying
to master the language.”
The class notes archive is available
for viewing by request, but is mostly used by the alumnae
Those who peek into the archive
might be advised: it can be an addictive and fascinating
activity, like viewing in entirety the lives of Smith women
from above, the big and small moments that touched and changed
From 1948: Margery (Hall ’42) Howard “is house hunting for the 4th time
in 2 ½ years.” Summer 1998: Margery Hall Howard “sends greetings from ice-bound
ME.” When she wrote, her section of Yarmouth had been without power for less
than 48 hours. “I should have chosen this January to visit 2 married grandchildren
in Maui.” She adds, “Didn’t we have a great Reunion?”
From 1906: Gertrude (Feidler ’06) Mewborn has a daughter Eugenia, “who will enter
Smith in 1926.” 1950: Gertrude (Feidler) Mewborn and husband “rambled around
Mexico and Cal., also visited Virginia City, the rejuvenated ghost town.”
“Wandering through the class notes archive is always fascinating,” says MacMillan. “There
is so much history there. Some alumnae have been writing into the magazine, sharing
their news, every year since they graduated. You get caught up in the stories
that these cards tell.”
As years pass and more class
notes are added to the digital archive, the ultimate fate
of the card catalog archive in the Alumnae House is uncertain.
disputing the valuable information contained in the files, and historians, archivists
and family members of Smith alumnae occasionally benefit from the archive.
could also serve as a trove of value for anyone compiling
a comprehensive women’s
history, notes MacMillan.
“I would love to think that the archive could be useful to someone looking to
write the ultimate history of women’s lives,” he says. “That book can’t be written
without the stories of Smith women.”