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   Date: 2/14/11 Bookmark and Share

Smith Medalists, Then and Now

Each year as we welcome a select group of distinguished Smith alumnae back to campus to be venerated and honored with the Smith College Medal, it’s easy to forget: they were once undergraduates here, just like those wearing wacky hats and rumbling the rafters of John M. Greene Hall at this year’s Rally Day (on Wednesday, Feb. 23).

They once took up temporary residence on campus, competed on sports teams and clubs, spent countless hours in the library, and attended the occasional house party.

Since then, they have all traveled a good share of ground, achieving great things along the way. Here, in their words, are snapshots of favorite memories from this year’s Smith Medalists. (Click on the medalists’ pictures to read more about their professional lives and accomplishments.) Each medalist will give a presentation in her field on Tuesday, Feb. 22, open to the Smith community.


Sarah Franklin ’82
Professor and anthropologist

Major: independent major, concentration in anthropology

House: Oak House (no longer exists), moved to Tyler House, then to Tenney House


Tenney House was a cooperative where we bought and prepared our own food. I did not have much money as a student, so this cut down substantially on my board. Although, Tenney was also famous for its parties! I am still in touch with many of my housemates and many other alums. In fact I know many more Smithies now, of all ages and stripes, in many cities all over the world, than I did when I was at Smith!

One of my absolute favorite things to do at Smith was to wander down to the Lyman Plant House. I always went to the flower shows, and I can still remember the smell of warm earth—especially when you came in to the spring Bulb Show from the cold winter weather outside. In the summer I used to take an occasional nap under the big evergreens next to the plant house. It was cool, shaded and perfumed with resin. So peaceful.


Susan McWhinney-Morse ’55
Social innovator

Major: Art history

House: Dewey House, where her mother, Alice Houston McWhinney ’16, and her sister, fellow Smith Medalist (in 1971) Madeline McWhinney Dale ’43, also lived.


I loved after-dinner conversations in our house mother's sitting room. A small group of us from all four classes often retreated from our frenzied and solitary studies to talk about matters in the great outer world: Korea, dating, McCarthyism, men, coming elections, breaking up with our boyfriends, Adlai Stevenson running for president (he was our commencement speaker).

Occasionally we complained about the food, the parietals, or confessed to having a crush on a professor. We always felt smarter, worldlier, and more connected after these evening diversions. They have become precious memories.


Alice Ladas ’43
Pioneer and activist for women's sexuality

Major: Political science

House: Tyler


Favorite tradition while at Smith: Bike riding to the Whale Inn.

Favorite quote from Smith: “If there’s one thing worse in this universe, it’s a woman without a man.”—from a Whiffenpoof’s song.


Laurel Touby ’85
Internet entrepreneur and writer

Major: economics (minor in international relations)

House: Started in Jordan, moved to Baldwin, finished in King


I loved tea time. Growing up in Miami, I had never experienced such a thing. Smith somehow managed to make it feel both elegant and cozy all at once.

I wouldn’t have imagined loving Smith as much as I did. Because Smith was single sex, I was able to focus intensely on academics -- and, for the first time in my life, on myself as a woman. It was an unexpected luxury to think of my place in the world, something I had never considered prior to Smith. Those few classes I took in Feminism were, frankly, perspective-altering. I am not sure if Feminism 101 was a requirement at Smith then, but it should be now!


Shirley Sagawa ’83
Policy entrepreneur and author

Major: American studies

House: Gillett


I have strong memories of long nights at the Sophian, followed by long days at the printer hand pasting the layout of the paper. But it was a phenomenal learning experience that I value to this day. I still enjoy the tradition of the Ivy Day parade—somehow it reminds all of us that we are part of a long line of Smithies. When I was at Smith, we had alums from the early decades of the 20th century in the parade. And now we have alums in the first decade of the 21st century. And we are all connected.

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