Skip to main content

Mary B. McElwain Papers

Identifier: CA-MS-00144

Scope and Contents

The papers include biographical material including press releases, a handwritten note from McElwain to the alumnae of Smith and Wilson Colleges in 1962, obituary notices, and tributes. Correspondence material includes an appointment letter from Smith College to serve as class dean for the 1941-41 academic year. From her library, there is a sizeable collection of poetry and illustrations from Mary Coggeshall Baker, class of 1916, and Elspeth MacDuffie Bragdon, class of 1920, who was widely published under the name of "Elspeth." There are also official photographs from Miss McElwain's tenure at Smith College and several of her published lectures.

Dates of Materials

  • 1901 - 1964
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1942


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

Mary Belle McElwain was born in Chambersburg Pennsylvania on May 14, 1874, to Robert Shannon and Alta (Lindsey) McElwain. She earned an A.B. at Wilson College in 1895 and remained there as an instructor in Greek, English and mathematics until 1903. She continued teaching at Miss Wright's School at Bryn Mawr from 1903 to 1908 when she entered Cornell University completing graduate work with a Master's Degree in 1909 and Ph.D. in 1910. She did post-graduate work at Bryn Mawr College, University of Pennsylvania, and the School of Classical Studies in Rome. She also received an honorary Litt.D. from Wilson College in 1936.

In 1910, Miss McElwain accepted a position as an instructor of Latin and Greek at Smith College, part of the first group of assistant professors. In a long and distinguished career at Smith she was a popular professor and served as class dean for three terms in 1918-20, 1920-24, and 1926-30. She was acting dean of the college in 1941-42 and also made Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages and Literature. Upon her retirement she returned to her alma mater to serve as acting dean until 1946, as Wilson College Historian from 1946 onward, and acting President of Wilson between February and August in 1950. She was also a member of the Wilson College Board of Trustees from 1929-1932 and 1938-1956.

In addition to her teaching and administrative duties at Smith and Wilson Colleges, Professor McElwain was a published editor and translator of the classics. She was an accomplished speaker, lecturer, and public advocate of classical education. Her professional memberships included, Phi Beta Kappa, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Classical Association of the American Academy in Rome, American Philological Association, American Friends of Greece, Inc., and the American Association of University Women.

Mary Belle McElwain died on February 23, 1964, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a few months short of her ninetieth birthday. At Wilson College a scholarship and residence hall bear her name as one of the college's most distinguished alumnae.


0.438 linear feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



Professor of Latin and Greek, Class Dean (1918-20, 1920-24, and 1926-30), and Dean at Smith College. Contains biographical material, correspondence, photographs, etc.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source unknown.

Related Material

More material on Mary B. Mc Elwain is available in the papers of 42., Smith College faculty, Robert Withington and 32., Smith College President, William Allan Neilson. Faculty collections for Professor McElwain's peers in the Smith College administration and Classics Department can also be found in the college archives.

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 Mary B. McElwain Papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Mary L. Wright
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2018-11-12: Containers added and finding aid updated as part of College Archives survey

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063