You can tell she’s an Olmsted.
Emily Olmsted ’14 may not be a direct descendant of Frederick Law Olmsted, but she carries at least a trace of his lineage, and her family has always considered the “father of landscape architecture” an honored member.
But it’s more than that. When the Smith student strolls across campus, she’s aware not only of the aesthetic beauty of the landscape plan created by her ancestor, but also the respect with which he treated nature in designing it and other national projects that bear his signature.
“I really appreciate the beauty of this campus,” says Olmsted. “They didn’t destroy nature to create a beautiful space. Everything here is intentionally beautiful, and the landscape proves that function and beauty and sustainability can be in harmony.”
Frederick Law Olmsted’s respect for and appreciation of nature is one reason many of his designs—from New York’s Central Park to Boston’s Fenway, Smith College and Stanford University to the U.S. Capitol, and parks in Buffalo, N.Y., Atlanta, Ga., and Montreal—remain largely as he drew them up more than 125 years ago.
Born in Hartford, Conn., on April 26, 1822, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., made his substantial mark, ultimately, as a landscape designer committed to preserving areas of natural beauty while creating functional public spaces. He took care in his designs to tread lightly on the natural aesthetic of the surroundings, and to use native fauna naturally acclimated to the conditions of the space.
Somewhere along Frederick Law’s bloodline, a similar appreciation blended into the DNA of Emily Olmsted, who sees her famous family member’s fingerprints on the campus she calls a temporary home.
“I had nothing to do with building this landscape, but I feel a connection to the land,” Olmsted says of the campus. “I can take pride in that connection.”
Her love of nature is also outlined in her academic interests. An environmental science and policy major, with a sociology minor, the young Olmsted is interested in the interactions between humans and the environment; particularly, she says, how some corporations exploit natural resources with too little regard for sustainability.
Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., she volunteered for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a New York group working to delay hydro-fracking, an environmentally damaging process to extract natural gas, and to lobby the passage of jobs legislation with solar industry incentives.
“That experience gave me an idea of how I can follow my passion for the environment and turn it into a job,” she says.
It’s no surprise, given her last name, that Olmsted was raised with respect for the environment. There are several landscape architects in the family, she says, and her mother, Sarah McCoubrey, a landscape painter, sparked Olmsted’s interest in environmental science. “Growing up, I was always surrounded by pictures of the environment,” she says.
Emily’s father, Michael Crockett Olmsted, is an attorney for the U.S. government, and is originally from Northampton. His mother, Patricia Crockett Olmsted, was a class dean at Smith.
Coincidentally, or not, multiple arms of Emily Olmsted’s extended family hail from cities prominent on the Frederick Law Olmsted landscape design resume: Chicago, Buffalo, Rochester, and Utica, N.Y., all areas graced by his park creations.
But it’s while walking along her favorite areas of the Smith campus—along College Lane past the Lyman Conservatory and across the footbridge alongside the waterfall—that Emily becomes aware of her ancestry.
“I love college here,” she reflects, “how you can walk down through the campus and see the whole landscape: the greenhouses, the Botanic Garden, Paradise Pond. This is Frederick Law Olmsted’s art. In my family we consider his art part of our identity.”