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Dorothy Sears Ainsworth papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00300

Scope and Contents

The Dorothy Sears Ainsworth papers contain significant documentation of her involvement with Smith College as a student, alumnae, professor, and with the Smith College Relief Unit. The bulk of the collection rests in Ainsworth's professional correspondence as she created various congresses and organizations to further communication about women's physical education. Also included are newspaper clippings, press releases, photographs, programs, role cards, as well as histories and constitutions of various organizations.

The collection also has some photographs that denote women's physical education costumes around the world and histories of various sports including pamphlets showing colonial games and printing plates.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1916-1975


Conditions Governing Access

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

Student academic records, student disciplinary records, and all records containing FERPA-covered student information are closed during the lifetime of the student. Student records created 100 years or more ago are assumed to be about deceased students.

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

Dorothy Sears Ainsworth was born in Moline, Illinois to Harry and Stella (Davidson) Ainsworth on March 8, 1894. Growing up in Moline exposed Dorothy to a large and growing immigrant population, which would encourage her international work in physical education in later life. The local industries included the John Deere Plow Company and Moline Plow Company. Her father was a very active sportsman, who participated in local tournaments, and her mother was active in organizational work.

In 1912, she joined her sister Sarah at Smith College living at 8 Bedford Terrace before moving to Chapin House for her second year. During her time at Smith, Ainsworth was involved in theater and sports, especially basketball. In May of 1916 with a degree in history, she returned to Moline to pay back her community for her education; there she taught physical education to high school girls. In 1919, Dorothy joined the Smith College Relief Unit in Grecourt, France where she worked in the transportation department, keeping the vehicles in running condition. In 1921, Dorothy returned to Smith College as an instructor in the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education. She taught basketball and dance. Later she went to Teachers College in Columbia University to obtain a formal education in physical education. She graduated with a Masters in Art degree in 1925, taught one year at Skidmore College before becoming the Director of Physical Education at Smith College in 1926--a position she would hold for 34 years. In 1930, Ainsworth was the fourth woman and the tenth person to receive a Doctorate from Columbia University with a specialization in physical education.

As Director of Physical Education at Smith College, Ainsworth devoted energy in developing an undergraduate curriculum which contributed to students' well being and development so that they could live a richer, more abundant life. She increased the number of different sporting opportunities offered to students from 6 in 1926 to 14 in 1960. She increased Smith's athletic facilities: adding riding stables, squash courts, an ice hockey rink, four hockey fields, two soccer fields, 26 tennis courts, three fairways and holes for golf, ten archery ranges, and 4 shells for crew by 1935. In 1932 the New York Herald Tribune noted that winter term enrollment was almost 100% with 1,738 out of 1,832 students enrolled in sports activities. In 1940, she created a graduate course for training teachers in physical education.

While at Smith, Ainsworth was also very active in the larger arena of physical education for women, belonging and participating in numerous associations, congresses, and conferences. The Association of Directors of Physical Education for Women (ADPEW), started in 1916, was the forerunner of the Eastern Association for Physical Education of College Women. Dorothy joined the ADPEW when she became director at Smith and brought the Association to Smith College in 1931; Dorothy served terms as president during her years of service to both organizations. She was also very active in the National Association for Physical Education for College Women of the United States (NAPECW)-serving as chair on many important committees including organizing chairman for the first International Congress on Physical Education for Girls and Women which was held in Copenhagen 1949. At the second Congress in Paris, an Association was formed by the heads of the delegations and, instead of having a continuing committee; they formed The International Association of Physical Education and Sports for Girls and Women (IAPESGW).

She continued working with and establishing contacts world-wide. She represented the National Education Association at the World Organization of Teaching Profession which was the forerunner of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). She was also a U.S. Delegate to the Pan American Congress of Physical Education in 1950 where she presented a paper on the results of the women's Copenhagen Congress. After years of travel, research and conversation with physical education teachers and directors world-wide, Dorothy coordinated, spearheaded, and helped write the constitution creating the International Council on Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ICHPER) as she had with the IAPESGW.

Ainsworth earned numerous awards and honors. She was the first woman to receive France's highest award in sports - the Cravate de Commandeur de l'Ordre du Merite Sportif. In 1970, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan granted Dorothy "The Fourth Class of the Order of the Precious Crown" in recognition of her assistance to the women of Japan in the field of physical education. The American Alliance for Health, Physical education and Recreation presented Dorothy with a "Presidential Service Award" in 1974 for her contributions to international physical education, as did The National Council of Women of the United States with their "Woman of Conscience Award" in 1968.

Dorothy Sears Ainsworth, Professor Emeritus of Physical Education at Smith College, passed away on December 2, 1976 at the age of 82 in a nursing home in her home town of Moline Illinois.


40.229 linear feet (66 containers)

Language of Materials



Dorothy Sears Ainsworth was Professor and Director of Physical Education at Smith College. The papers contain biographical material, speeches, lectures, organizational notes and correspondence, student papers, subject files, publications, photographs, and awards.


This collection is organized into eight series:

  1. Series I. Biography
  2. Series II. Smith College
  3. Series III. Correspondence
  4. Series IV. Organizations
  5. Series V. Conferences
  6. Series VI. Writings
  7. Series VII. Subject files, A-Z
  8. Series VIII. Awards, photographs and scrapbooks
  9. Series IX. Audio-visual

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

Donated by Dorothy Sears Ainsworth, 1940s-1967. Some material is from other sources.


Boxes 59 and 62, consisting of Department of Physical Education attendance and grading sheets, were shredded in March 2022 in accordance with the Smith College Records Management Policy. An additional box was shredded in March 2023.

Related Materials

  1. - RG 12 War Service, World War I, 1914-18 Smith College Relief Unit
  2. - RG 80 Phi Kappa Society
  3. - RG 52 Physical Education Scrapbooks
  4. - RG 100 C710a-C710h - 8 Audiotapes

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 Dorothy Sears Ainsworth papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Kate Deviny.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2019-03-12: Updated container information and re-published.
  • 2019-12-03: Added boxes 51-62, updated S&C note, extents and dates

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063