Office of President William Allan Neilson Files
Scope and Contents
- Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Faculty tenure and promotion files, as well as inactive faculty files are closed permanently. Board of Trustees' records are closed permanently. Minutes of the Faculty Council are closed to all except current Smith College Faculty for a period of 75 years following their creation. 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. In all cases, the College Archives will continue to provide public access to materials that were intended to be public at the time of their creation (press releases, publications, etc.)
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Biographical / Historical
Deciding that he would prefer to be a scholar than a school master, Neilson went on to Harvard Graduate School in Cambridge, MA where he received his Ph.D. in English in 1898. Upon receiving his Ph.D., Neilson accepted a position as an Associate in English Literature at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Neilson taught at many other fine institutions before settling into the work of an administrator. Harvard, Radcliffe, the Sorbonne, Columbia, Barnard, and the University of California all made use of Neilson's talents at one time or another.
It was during his years as a professor that Neilson distinguished himself as the sort of scholar that an academic institution would wish to guide it. Before coming to Smith, Neilson made a name for himself as a professor devoted to his students' learning. He was the only instructor of Helen Keller's who learned the manual sign language she used for communication. He was also an accomplished writer and editor. Among his writings were Essentials of Poetry (1912)and The Facts about Shakespeare (1913). He also was the editor of Milton's Minor Poems (1899) and Shakespeare's Complete Works (1906).
In 1917, Neilson was offered the Presidency of Smith College. He accepted on the conditions that he would not be obligated to raise money, and that a president's house would be built, conditions the trustees complied with.
Neilson's quick wit that endeared him to student, staff, faculty, and alumnae. At Neilson's final commencement in 1939 Cynthia Walsh recalled one particular instance:
The seniors will especially recall that on May Day when they went to serenade him, his new collie puppy began to bark, not realizing what sweet voices were vying with the birds so early in the morning. When the president stepped out he said, "My dog thinks you're sheep," and the volleys of laughter which greeted this remark quite drowned out the rest: "-but I think you're lambs!"
Neilson's accomplishments included purchasing and building new residences so that all Smith students would live on campus. He was responsible for the building of the Great Quadrangle, purchasing Chapin House, Talbot House, Sessions House, and many others. During Neilson's 22-year term as president, the campus also saw the additions of Sage Music Hall, Scott Gymnasium, Tryon Art Gallery, the Alumnae House, the Infirmary, and the President's house.
Neilson also established the Junior Year in France, Junior Year in Italy, and the Junior Year in Spain Programs. Special Honors, the Smith College Day School, and the School for Social Work were additions that Neilson made to the college.
Neilson continued writing and editing while looking after the well being of 2,000 students. In 1920 he wrote History of English Literature and in 1922 he edited Roads to Knowledge. He also was the editor-in-chief of Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1934.
26.021 linear feet (57 containers)
Language of Materials
- I. Correspondence
- II. Organization
- III. Subjects
- IV. Confidential
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Finding aid to Office of the President William Allan Neilson files
- Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
- Katie Motta and Susan Ott; Ellice Amanna
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
- 2005-09-23: manosca13 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
- 09/21/2017: Links to selected digitized resources were added to finding aid
- 11/12/18 : Added boxes, locations, barcodes; updated finding aid
Part of the Smith College Archives Repository
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton MA 01063