Looking for Professor Smith

Professor Smith early in her career here, ca. 1957-1963

Professor Smith early in her career here, ca. 1957-1963

Black History Month is winding down, but before it goes, here are a few words about Vassar College’s first Black faculty. I say “a few” words because I’ve had some difficulty finding much in the documentary record. The first Black person to teach at Vassar was English professor and poet Sterling Brown. There is a lot of information on Professor Brown (post coming soon!), but Brown was a visiting professor. In March of 1945, he came to campus to speak about his book, A Negro Looks at the South (which was not actually published until 2007). He was so popular, he was offered a visiting professorship for the following fall in the English Department. He accepted that offer, then returned for a second semester in the fall of 1946. But the first Black tenure-track faculty member didn’t arrive for another 9 years.

Psychology professor, Henrietta T. Smith came to Vassar as an Instructor in the fall of 1954. She achieved status as full professor in 1968, and was named the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair of Social Sciences in 1973. Professor Smith was not just the first Black professor on campus, she was also the first Black woman to teach on campus. It seems like we should have reams of information on her, right? Well, we don’t. There are a number of possible reasons for this, but as of right now, no reasonable excuses. Below is a listing of what we do know about Professor Smith.

– Born 9 December 1925 in Huntsville, Alabama

– BA and MA, University of Cincinnati, 1946, 1948

– Ph.D. Radcliffe, 1953

– Assistant Professor of Psychology at Allen University, Columbia, SC, 1947-1949 and 1953-1954

– Research Assistant, Harvard Graduate School, Education Department, 1951-1953

– Began teaching in the VC Psychology Department, 1954

– Named the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair of Social Sciences, 1973

– Chaired VC Nursery School Committee, 1985-1988

– In her early years, lived in Kendrick, Cushing, the Rombout House, and later purchased a home on Vassar Lake Drive

– Retired in 1990

– In addition to her work at Vassar, Smith also served as a trustee at Marist College and Manhattan Marymount College.

– She was a member of all the expected psychology and professional organizations as well as the Committee on Equality of Opportunity in Psychology, APA, 1977-1980 and the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association, 1983-1986.

– Her research interests included the perception and acquisition of sex role behaviors and values in young children, “the education of deprived children,” the psychology of Elizabeth I of Great Britain, and the psychological development of adults over 30 and under 65.

– Died in 2002.

So there’s the data. No pithy quotes, no anecdotes. If you can help fill in some of the missing story please be in touch. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Contact information is available here: http://specialcollections.vassar.edu/staff

Professor Smith and Professor Joseph Stone at Registration in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Professor Smith and Professor Joseph Stone at Registration in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

A Vassar Thanksgiving, 1909

Please be aware: It has come to our attention that this historical diary contains references to potentially offensive material.  Had we been fully aware of the content, we would have reconsidered the decision to share this passage in this context.  We regret the oversight, and also recognize that historical documents serve as important tools for examining both the past and the present.

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Posters in Miniature: The Ephemeral Cinderella

HohlweinAn Exhibition in the Vassar College Art Library

September 17 – December 17, 2015

In 1845 a new form of graphic art called the poster stamp, referred to by contemporary collectors as “Cinderellas,” was launched in Austria as a means of commemorating and advertising an important Viennese trade exhibition. Based on the printed postage stamp, which had  just been introduced in England in 1840, poster stamps tended to be somewhat larger and were intended to bear messages rather than serve any official function. Circulated on envelopes, theater programs, packages and invoices, and assembled in collector’s booklets and albums, poster stamps gradually became so popular across Europe and America as an advertising medium that soon they were being designed in the tens of thousands. In 1914, for example, over 50,000 individual stamp designs were produced in Germany alone.

Despite their commemorative origins, as poster stamp production trickled off in the 1930’s so did recollection of their existence to all but a handful of collectors of historical ephemera. There is, for example, no Library of Congress classification for these objects, and virtually no art historical literature on them. This is astonishing when we consider that their designers included many of the most prominent graphic artists working in Europe and America over a sixty year period when poster art was at its height, that they engage all the major art movements and styles of the era including beaux arts, art nouveau, art deco, constructivism, futurism, dada, and surrealism, and that they present us with some of the most imaginative, visually arresting, and widely-disseminated pictorial art ever produced.

This exhibit showcases representative specimens of the medium from a substantial and significant collection of poster stamps generously gifted this year to the Vassar College Libraries by the Poughkeepsie ephemerist and collector Arthur Groten. As examples of an important but almost forgotten form of social media, we hope this collection will serve in the future as a material basis for reflection on relationships between art and industry, high and low, culture and communication, scale and distribution, memory and evanescence.