Honoring Former Smith Presidents in Our New Library

Letters to the Community
January 20, 2021

Dear students, faculty, staff and alums,

I write today with exciting news about Neilson Library. Following a vote by the board of trustees, Smith College will name the new library’s two wings in honor of Smith presidents emeritae Ruth J. Simmons and Mary Maples Dunn.

Architectural designer Maya Lin refers to the wings as “jewel boxes,” and they are among the most distinctive features of the new building. It is fitting that the wings will carry the names of two Smith presidents whose legacies embody the spirit of academic innovation and forward thinking that Neilson Library represents. The south wing, home to Smith’s renowned collections, will be named for Smith’s eighth president, Mary Maples Dunn, who died in 2017. The north wing, which will feature an array of study, collaborative and social spaces, will be named for Smith’s ninth president, Ruth J. Simmons, who is currently serving as the president of Prairie View A&M University.

During their tenures, Mary and Ruth made Smith the college of choice for thousands of students from around the world. The influence of their leadership on the Smith of today—and tomorrow—continues to be felt throughout the college with respect to new academic and co-curricular initiatives as well as the expansion of our work on access, diversity, equity and inclusion.

As many of you know, the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, named for Smith’s first woman president, will be housed in a prominent place within Neilson Library, inside the first-floor entrance from Seelye lawn. With the naming of these new spaces, the library will honor three of Smith’s women presidents.

I would like to thank members of the trustee task force who advised on the naming of these spaces: Alison Overseth ’80, Debbie Berger ’86, Abigail Edwards ’20, Madeleine Fackler ’80, Beverly Morgan-Welch ’74, Elena Palladino and Beth Raffeld.

The library will open for operation in late February; next fall, we will host a dedication ceremony to which you are all invited. Our new library will serve our community in ways we can only begin to imagine.


Kathleen McCartney