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Setting a Smith "Gold" Standard

Throughout the year, the high school students and their parents who arrive on campus to check out Smith College are inevitably met by Gold Key Guides. Often one of the first Smith representatives a prospective student will meet, student guides play a significant role in the admission process. But that's nothing new.

Student guides have provided campus tours since the early days of the 20th century. They adopted the name Gold Key Guides in 1947 and, four years later, became a collegewide association. Since that time, the guides have been unpaid. The information they provide has always been unscripted.

A Gold Key Memory from Helene (Pringle) Schulz ’53

The following comments were gathered from the writings and comments of Smith student guides themselves over the past 70 years.

Student tour guides have provided campus tours of Smith College for more than a 100 years. Like her predecessors, Gold Key Guide Kathy Han '09 led visitors on daily tours all summer. Photos by Mike Thomasson/Pivotmedia.

The Role

1939 "The guest, under the competent guidance of one of our corps, receives without too much effort on his or her part a quite complete and fair picture of Smith, and, being with a student, feels a personal contact with the college, besides picking up bits of information which no poring through catalogues would yield."

1955 "Functioning as an interpreter, the guide must speak on many planes. Each family member must be dealt with individually," observed Sally Wilcox '55, in a 1955 edition of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. "More than anyone else, they want their guest to realize what all this can mean to her."

1966 "The Admissions Office does not encourage Gold Key members to present a completely rosy and gung-ho picture of Smith, nor to overwhelm visitors with facts and statistics."


1939 "Fathers, poor men...must continually be left sitting on doorsteps. Either the girl wants to look at bedrooms and father has to wait in the living room; or she just must have a look at the locker rooms, so father spends a painful five minutes on the steps of Scott Gymnasium, tortured by the discordant sounds floating out of the practice rooms in Sage."

1939 "One of our guides was showing a father around campus. He gradually got so much into the swing of things that he demanded to be taken to 'the place where all the college girls go.' Our guide led him obediently to Toto's, where he gleefully drank a lemon Coke."

1955 "Father of 'the Brain' wants to know the mechanics of the heating system. At what exact temperature does the sprinkler system burst forth into geyser-like fountains? Is the Treasurer's Office a responsible and efficient place into which he can safely funnel his funds?"

1964 "Fathers are the generous ones and they are the ones, too, who are apt to have firm ideas about how to appraise what they see.... An occasional father hovers over the card catalogue to make his own judgment of the library," according to a 1964 Smith Alumnae Quarterly article that quoted five guides: Harriet Campell '66, Mary Louise Agemian '64, Signe Anderson '64, Kathryn Amey '65 and Sally Beck '66.

First Stop: Neilson

1939 "People never fail to be impressed by the atmosphere of the Browsing Room, and the quiet which reigns in the stacks and reading rooms -- goodness knows what they expect in a library!"

1964 "How do you calm the prospective student's doubts about the stamina Smith requires when she finds a limp scholar fast asleep on a couch in the Browsing Room?"

1966 "Visitors are taken through the library and have disturbed quiet study there."

On Duty

1939 "The new system of having guides always in College Hall ready to show any guests the Smith campus is really far superior to the former one of frantically calling up house after house to find someone....Now the guide is right there waiting."

1939 "Each visitor usually claims that he wishes to inspect everything -- which means a general tour of the campus, lasting approximately an hour. One family, however, did see everything -- our guide was with them from 11 in the morning to 5 that afternoon."

1955 "Each guide is assigned two hours a week when she is either on duty in the telephone operator's cubicle in College Hall, or on call at her house."

2007 "With Moodle it is much easier for us to coordinate our commitments to Gold Key. This social forum is a really great way for us all to stay in contact. If you need to switch tour times for a week, post it here. If you have a sudden change in schedule and need someone to cover your special event, post it and one of our great guides will probably be able to help you out."

2008 "This is a very busy week of overnights (visits from prospective students). Make sure to get your air-beds back right away. Every night is booked."

The Questions

1939 "There are always fantastic ideas about Smith to set straight...the doting parent who wanted to know how often the bus ran between the Quad and Seelye Hall!"

1955 "The prospective student herself...has a few inscrutable questions of her own. They may be whispered while parental attention is elsewhere. Should she have a roommate? Do you know, and you usually don't, the boy next door who goes to Amherst?"

1964 "Often we are asked a great many personal questions from 'What are you going to do when you graduate?,' to 'Do you have a date for tonight?'"

1972 "This year's questions included: 'What is your reaction to the general social life at Smith, what are you most dissatisfied with at Smith and if you had only 10 minutes, where would you take a girl on a tour?'"


1939 "All are paid a retaining fee by the college, besides an hourly rate when guiding."

1955 "The organization began as a service to the College and is of just as much value to the guides themselves."

1964 "The rewards of the job are partly the pleasure of coming in contact with people of many sorts and interests, and partly the perspective lent to familiar things by looking at them through the eyes of strangers."

1966 "In addition to the pleasure of meeting and talking to new people, Gold Key members each year enjoy dessert at the Mendenhall's and an afternoon tea in the fall."

2008 "I have had a sudden change in plans and I'm desperate to switch with anyone with a later time slot this Saturday... If you can switch, I will buy you Herrell's after I give my tour (or whenever you want)."

Job Well Done

1964 "Others, numbed by a shopping tour of countless colleges, are utterly bewildered, like one rapturous individual who forgot what campus she was on and said: 'I love it; it's too marvelous! Now I know Wellesley is where I want to come!'"

Material for this article was compiled by Kristen Cole, Smith media relations director, with contributions from Nanci Young, Smith College archivist, and Sidnie Davis '08.

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Do you have memories of being -- or encountering -- a Gold Key guide? Write to us at

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