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Laurenus Clark Seelye papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00001

Scope and Contents

The Laurenus Clark Seelye papers consist primarily of correspondence and written sermons and lectures. Other types of materials represented in this collection include news articles, photographs, manuscripts and published works, notebooks, scrapbooks, journals, and memorabilia.

The Smith College correspondence includes letters between President Marion LeRoy Burton, Harry Norman Gardiner, Arthur L. Gillett, John M. Greene, Mary Augusta Jordan, William H. Lanning, Alice (Lord) Parsons, and Herbert A. Wilder. The correspondence provides a good record of the early days of Smith College, as well as a look at the people after whom Smith College buildings and monuments are named. Names of note in the non-Smith College correspondence include Andrew Carnegie, President William McKinley, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Topics cover everything from money to religion. One weakness of the correspondence is that quite a few of the first names of correspondents are not apparent or are completely unknown.

The series of lectures comprises the largest portion of history in this collection. All of these works were written by Seeleye and give insight into his religious and secular views. The sermons range from 1859-1910 and include the city in which the sermon was given. Speeches are divided into religious, Washington's Birthday, and secular categories. Seeleye's lectures are divided into subject. His lectures on English Literature were given between 1864 - 1875.

Dates of Materials

  • 1820 - 1995
  • Majority of material found within 1875-1924


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Smith College retains copyright of materials created as part of its business operations; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Smith College, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Laurenus Clark Seelye was the first president of Smith College. Born on September 20, 1837, in Bethel, Connecticut, he was the youngest child of Abigail Taylor Seelye and Seth Seelye, who married in 1817. Seth Seelye was a merchant, farmer, and deacon. Seelye's sisters, Hannah and Elizabeth, were not educated. L. Clark and his brothers, Thomas, Samuel, Julius, and Henry, were all educated. Three of the sons, Samuel, Julius, and L. Clark, went on to become ministers, Thomas became a physician, and Henry a farmer and later an attorney. Julius served as the president of Amherst College. Seelye most likely attended the Center District School in Bethel. He was schooled in Woodbury, attended the Old Hadley Academy, and afterwards spent some time in Danbury to complete his education. At the age of twelve he started home-schooling under his brother Samuel. He entered Union College at the age of sixteen where he received a B.A. and graduated as valedictorian with highest honors. After Union, he attended Andover Seminary but left due to ill health. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean and across Europe in hopes of getting well; while in Germany, he decided to complete his education in Heidelberg.

After graduating from Heidelberg in 1862, Seelye became a minister. He was the pastor of the Old North Church in Springfield, MA, for almost two years. It was in Springfield that he met his wife, Henrietta Chapin, a cousin of a parishioner. They had seven children: Ralph, Harriet, Abigail, Arthur, Walter, Henrietta, and Bertram. Bertram died in infancy and Arthur died tragically on Mt. Tom at the age of twenty-five. After two years at his Springfield post, Seelye’s health began to fail again and he decided to take his brother’s offer to teach English Literature at Amherst College. He remained at Amherst for ten years, until the trustees of the newly founded Smith College convinced him to be the first president. He was inaugurated on July 4, 1875. While president of Smith College, he earned a DD from Union College (1875), an LLD from Amherst (1894), and after retirement he received honorary degrees from Union College and Smith College (1913). Seelye retired from Smith College in 1910 and became the director and vice president of the Holyoke Water Power Company. That same year he was named President emeritus of Smith College. Throughout his life Seelye continued to give sermons and was frequently at the pulpit until his death on October 12, 1924.

Laurenus Clark Seelye is an important figure in Smith College history. He was the first president of the college and held the position for thirty-seven years (1873-1910). During his presidency, the college grew from fourteen to over 1600 students and from four faculty members (including Seelye himself) to over one hundred faculty members. After retiring, he remained a part of Smith College life and his connection can be traced through photographs, correspondence, and news articles.


16.958 linear feet (29 containers)

Language of Materials



Laurenus Clark Seelye was the first president of Smith College. His papers contain biographical material, correspondence, sermons, speeches, lectures, publications, photographs and family papers of Henrietta Chapin Seelye. Correspondents include President Marion LeRoy Burton, Harry Norman Gardiner, Arthur L. Gillett, John M. Greene, Mary Augusta Jordan, William H. Lanning, Alice (Lord) Parsons, Herbert A. Wilder, Andrew Carnegie, President William McKinley, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr, among others.


The correspondence, ranging in date from 1860 - 1934, is divided by family and professional life. The professional correspondence is divided into the following sections: Smith College (1872-1934), Non-Smith College (1876-1924), and Employment opportunities (1862-1872).This collection is organized into six series:

  1. I. Biography
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Sermons/Speeches/Lectures
  4. IV. Publications
  5. V. Photographs
  6. VI. Henrietta Chapin Seelye

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown

Additional Formats

Images from this collection are also available online as part of the Five College Archives Digital Access Project.

Processing Information

Processed by Brigid Byrne, '99.

Processing Information

Please note that prior to 2018, folder inventories were not always updated when new material was added to the collection. As a result, folder inventories may not be complete and folder numbers may be incorrect.

Finding aid to the Laurenus Clark Seelye papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Bridget Byrne '99; Ellice Amanna; Scott Biddle
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: manosca1 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 11/12/18: Finding aid updated with new containers, box numbers, barcodes, locations
  • 2019-11-22: Container added, finding aid updated with notes, dates, barcodes
  • 2020-06-16: Added flat file folders with instances

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063