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Office of the President Thomas Corwin Mendenhall Files

Identifier: CA-MS-00032

Scope and Contents

The Mendenhall Files includes material dating from 1956-1982. Some material has been restricted according the College Archives policies. The open records include incoming and outgoing correspondence, reports and working papers, news clippings and photographs. For more specific information about the contents of the collection see the series descriptions and folder listing below.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1956 - 1982


Conditions Governing Access

The bulk of the collection (85 document boxes) is open to researchers according to the regulations of the College Archives. Some material has been restricted according to the College Archives policies. A small selection is currently open only to employees of the office of origin. College policy and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act require the restriction of the records of both the Board of Trustees and the Board of Counselors.

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

Thomas Corwin Mendenhall was the sixth president of Smith College, and the last male president to take office. He accepted the position in 1958, and began work in the fall of 1959. He remained at the college for 16 years, retiring in the spring of 1975. Over the years he became a respected and beloved member of the Smith community, seeing the institution through one of the most divisive periods in American history with skill, sensitivity, and a precocious sense of humor.

Mendenhall arrived at Smith with more than 20 years of experience as an educator and administrator. After receiving degrees from Yale (Class of 1932), and Oxford's Balliol College (B.A. 1935, B.Litt. 1936), he returned to Yale as a professor of history in 1937. Six years later he began taking on administrative duties, first as assistant to the provost (1943-1950), then as the master of Berkeley College (1950-1959). He also had experience with Smith itself by way of his mother, Dorothy Reed Mendenhall, Smith Class of 1895.

Mendenhall was president during a challenging and eventful period for academic administrators across the country. He successfully guided the college through both national and local upheaval, weathering the social and political disputes that have become the hallmark of the 1960s and early 1970s. As the country battled over civil rights, the wars in Southeast Asia, and class iniquity, Smith became one of the thousands of colleges and universities across the country compelled to join the fray both nationally and locally. The legacies of student and faculty activism at Smith can be seen in the curriculum, social regulations, and even administrative structure and procedures. Afro-American Studies (via the Five Colleges), the Bridge Program, and the student exchange program with historically Black colleges all began during these years as a result of local and national struggles for civil rights and class equality. Recruitment programs attempted to diversify the population of students, as well as that of faculty and staff. The debate over coeducation also reached a pinnacle during the Mendenhall years, and the women's movement began to impact the college's curriculum and administrative structure. The Mendenhall Files illustrate the evolution of these issues via the records of individual Smith offices, departments and committees, but also through correspondence with alumnae, students and parents who needed not only to be informed, but in some cases placated in their anger and disappointment.

Changes in the administration and population were accompanied by renovation and addition to the physical layout of the college. Mendenhall oversaw the construction of three new centers and the renovation of several existing buildings. The Clark Science Center, the Fine Arts Center, and the Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts were all constructed between 1959 and 1975. There was also a significant addition to Neilson Library.

As president of one of the premier women's colleges in the country, Mendenhall was also required to participate in intercollegiate associations such as the Seven Sisters, the Pioneer Valley's Five Colleges, Inc., and the primarily ivy league 12-College Exchange. He was also the Smith representative and point person for many educational organizations and related businesses. His daily schedule was crowded not only with campus activities and responsibilities, but also with speaking engagements and meetings at a variety of locales across the country. The extent of his responsibilities is most apparent in five records series in the collection: Colleges & Universities, Events, Engagements, Intercollegiate Associations, and Non-Smith Organizations. His philosophies and opinions on a variety of issues and events are documented throughout the collection, but are detailed most specifically in the Speeches series.

Throughout his tenure, Mendenhall played key roles in traditional college events, was cheered for his formal and informal talks, and came to be known by successive classes of students and alumnae as "Uncle Tom." He could be seen regularly rowing on Paradise Pond, made frequent appearances at dinners and teas in the student residences, and took an active role in the daily life of the college. He also remained an active educator, teaching in the history department throughout his presidency. When he died On July 18, 1998, at the age of 88, he was mourned by many from the Smith community. The following October, there was a memorial service in the Hills Chapel where friends and spoke about his legacies as an administrator, an educator, and a charismatic character in the history of Smith College.


34.375 linear feet (85 containers)

Language of Materials



Sixth President of Smith College, Professor, history. Contains official records of the Office of the President, incoming and outgoing correspondence, reports and working papers, news clippings and photographs


This collection is organized into eighteen series:

  1. I. Biography
  2. II. Academic Departments
  3. III. Academic Programs
  4. IV. Administrative Issues
  5. V. Administrative Offices
  6. VI. Alumnae
  7. VII. Buildings and Grounds
  8. VIII. Colleges and Universities
  9. IX. Committees Boards
  10. X. Engagements
  11. XI. Events
  12. XII. Faculty and Staff
  13. XIII. Graduate Work
  14. XIV. Intercollegiate Associations
  15. XV. Non-Smith Organizations
  16. XVI. Speeches
  17. XVII. Students
  18. XVIII. Photographs

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

The majority of the Mendenhall Files were transferred to the College Archives from the Office of the President in a number of accessions dating from the time of his tenure until the present. Some material, however, came from Mendenhall himself after his retirement in 1975, and then from his wife, Cornelia Mendenhall, after his death in 1998. Additional biographical materials, such as news clippings, press releases, and photographs, have been added by the College Archives staff.

Related Material

Additional material in the Smith College Archives may be found in the records of other departments and offices of the college, as well as in the personal papers of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall. The papers of Dorothy Reed Mendenhall may also prove useful. They are housed in the Sophia Smith Collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Laura Finkel.

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.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Finding aid to the Office of the President Thomas Corwin Mendenhall Files.
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Laura Finkel
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: manosca32 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2018-12-06: Finding aid updated as part of the College Archives Survey

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063