Sophia Smith


Quick Reference

(1796–1870), the first American woman to found a women's college. Born when few opportunities for higher education existed for women, Sophia Smith used her inherited wealth to endow Smith College, one of the foremost women's colleges in American history. Like most nineteenth-century women, Smith enjoyed little formal education, but by all accounts loved to learn, reading avidly across genres and topics. Rejecting the prevailing ladies’ seminary model, Smith bequeathed roughly $400,000 for “the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for the higher education of women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for the education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men.” Following the advice of her influential pastor, John M. Greene (1830–1919), Smith agreed to locate the college in Northampton, Massachusetts; it opened with fourteen students in 1875. Since that time, 46,000 women have graduated from Smith College, it has gained international renown, and its alumnae have gained prominence in all fields of American life.


From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History.

Reference entries