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Jill Ker Conway personal papers

Identifier: CA-MS-01030

Content Description

The collection contains papers related to Jill Ker Conway’s life before and after her time as Smith President, as well as correspondence files spanning her entire life. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, professional and conference materials, writings, teaching materials, and awards. The majority of the collection is from Conway’s professional career after Smith, her writings, and her teaching. There is limited personal or biographical material. Papers related to Conway’s time as Smith’s president can be found in the Office of the President Jill Ker Conway Files.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1890 - 2018
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960 - 2018


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use with following restrictions on access:

Correspondence with 3rd party individuals are closed until the death of the correspondent.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Conway has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; 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 Conway, 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

Jill Ker Conway was the first female president of the college. Her selection, a watershed in the history of Smith, was also a hallmark in an era of significant change in the perception of women and their role in society.

Conway was only 39 years old when she accepted the Smith appointment in 1974. A native of New South Wales, Australia, she received her undergraduate education at the University of Sydney (1958). Two years after completing her B.A., she left Australia to pursue her Ph.D. at Harvard University. While at Harvard, she met and married John Conway, a Canadian historian and a native of Toronto. Together they moved to Canada where both obtained positions at the University of Toronto. Jill Conway remained at the University of Toronto for more than ten years, beginning in 1964. She began as a professor of U.S. social and intellectual history, then gradually rose through the administrative ranks to serve as the vice-president for internal affairs (1973-1975).

Conway assumed the Smith presidency in July 1975. Several administrative and curricular changes were enacted during her tenure. Administrative offices, such as the Career Development Office (previously the Vocational Office), Dean of the College, Dean of Students, and Public Relations, were reorganized. The Women's Studies, Comparative Literature, Peace and War Studies, and Engineering Dual Degree programs were added to the curriculum during this period, and academic minors were introduced. Lasting physical reminders of her presidency include the Ainsworth Gym, expanded outdoor athletic facilities, as well as renovation and additions to Neilson Library. The Alumnae Gymnasium was also renovated during this period, and became home to the Smith College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection, and the Nonprint Resource Center.

Following her departure from the college in 1985, Conway has been a visiting professor in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society. She has also authored and edited a number of books of fiction and nonfiction. Three volumes of her memoirs provide detailed biographical information about Conway. The third volume (released October 2001), chronicles her years at Smith. While this volume deals with Conway's personal as well as professional development, and is admittedly from a singular perspective, it can serve as a guide to the major developments of Smith College during her tenure.


39.459 linear feet (56 containers)

0.03962 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Jill Ker Conway was the first female president of the college. Her selection, a watershed in the history of Smith, was also a hallmark in an era of significant change in the perception of women and their role in society. This collection of personal materials includes correspondence, photographs, professional and conference materials, awards, and memorabilia documenting Conway's personal life (1934-2018) and post-Smith career (1975-2018).


The collection is divided into six series.


  1. Biographical Information
  2. Correspondence
  3. Teaching and Professional Affiliations
  4. Writings and Speeches
  5. Photographs
  6. Audiovisual and Digital Materials

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 to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Originally in Conway's houses in Boston and Conway, MA; materials are a bequest from JKC, through Executor of her estate, Susie Bourque.


In 2003, Jill Ker Conway's christening gown (circa 1934) was separated from this collection and transferred to the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection.

In 2020, when the collection was reprocessed, several groups of materials were removed from the collection, including her doctoral hoods, honorary degrees and awards, financial materials and medical records, layout proofs and galleys of Conway's writings, and her recommendations and advising files for her students and colleagues. These materials were discarded.

In addition to these, 1 oversize box of material was moved to the John Conway papers and 1 oversize box was transferred to the Office of the President Jill Ker Conway Files.

Related Materials

The college archives contains Office of the President Jill Ker Conway Files. The papers of Jill Ker Conway’s husband, John Conway papers, are in the college archives. There is correspondence from Conway in the Jaap Diedrick Snoek Papers, the Smith Club of Cambridge Records, and the SSC’s Mina Kirstein Curtiss papers. There is an oral history interview of Conway in the SSC’s Living U.S. Women's History Oral History Project oral histories.

Processing Information

In 2003, several accessions were processed into 7 series (the current series and an artifacts series), but accessions continued to be sent after this.

In 2020, the collection was revisited by Madison White and Grace Hartley, a student assistant. They weeded duplicate and sensitive materials from the collection, and then processed the remaining unprocessed accessions in the same structure that the 2003 processors had used. Since most of the artifacts series was weeded, the remaining materials were moved to other series. Closed correspondence were moved to their own restricted box. The finding aid was updated to reflect the new structure, and the 2003 and the 2020 processed sections were intellectually integrated together.

The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created. Some floppy disks were unable to be copied. See the log files linked in the container list for more details.



Finding aid to Jill Ker Conway personal papers
Enhanced Finding Aid (Completed)
Madison White and Grace Hartley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-01-27: Described new processed arrangement
  • 2020-07-22: Description added for born-digital content.

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063