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News & Events for the Smith College Community
New Neilson July 7, 2021

A New Home for Past Presidents


Neilson Library staff are preparing to welcome some very special guests to the newly reimagined library.

Ten portraits of Smith’s former presidents—long housed near the main staircase in College Hall—will be moved to a place of prominence in the new Neilson later this summer.

President Kathleen McCartney says that the 10 portraits will be installed in the newly named Klingenstein Browsing Room—the beloved first-floor gathering space formerly known simply as the Browsing Room.

“Smith is richly informed by our history, and the portraits are a part of our history,” McCartney notes. “There are two reasons to display them in Neilson Library. The first is practical, in that we have run out of space in College Hall. More importantly, the portraits will be more visible to more members of our community, given that Neilson is the intellectual heart of our campus.”

Patricia Davis Klingenstein ’51, for whom the renovated browsing room is now named, says she is delighted the president’s portraits will be mounted in this historic gathering space. “My daughter Nancy Simpkins ’77 and I are very pleased to be able to invest in Smith’s exciting new library,” Pat said. “As a loyal Smithie and longtime lover of libraries, I smile to imagine Smith’s past presidents joining with current students, faculty and staff in reading, reflecting, learning and discussion.”

Susan Fliss, dean of libraries, notes that the design of the Klingenstein Browsing Room gives the portraits the visibility and light they have never had in College Hall. “And they'll bring more Smith history to this iconic room,” she adds. “This is an excellent addition to this special space.”

The presidential portraits are scheduled to be moved over the summer. Staff from the Smith College Museum of Art staff will transfer the portraits from College Hall to the museum, where conservators will assess their condition and undertake necessary conservation work— mostly light cleaning and dusting, according to SCMA director Jessica Nicoll ’83.

Once that work is finished, the portraits will be moved to the new Neilson, where they will be installed in the Klingenstein room to welcome students, faculty, staff and scholars this fall.

Close observers of college history will know that Smith has displayed two “official” portraits of Smith’s seventh president, Jill Ker Conway. As part of this move, the large portrait that formerly hung in the College Archives will be moved to the Klingenstein Room, while the smaller portrait from College Hall will go in the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, directly across from Klingenstein in the new Neilson.

The former presidents will be joined by Smith’s founder, Sophia Smith, whose portrait will hang over the browsing room fireplace.