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By Eric Weld   Date: 5/23/13 Bookmark and Share

A Century of Class Notes

It’s the most popular section in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly, 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.

  Click on images for enlarged view

  Class notes archives hold thousands of cards, each containing snapshots of alumnae lives.
  The cards date to 1906, when the Smith alumnae magazine first appeared.
  Some alumnae, like Ann Ruggles '41, have kept Smith well-informed.

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.

That 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.

Thanks 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 research office.

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 them.

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. There’s no disputing the valuable information contained in the files, and historians, archivists and family members of Smith alumnae occasionally benefit from the archive.

It 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.”

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