Heaven knows they need them. The Grecourt Gates, named for the chateau in Picardy where a band of Smithies labored to repair the damage inflicted upon France by the Great War, have ushered generations of students onto the campus of Sophia Smith’s gift to the world. Tall, wrought from lacy black iron and solid local brick, they have been the symbol of the college for nearly a century of sun, rain, wind, and biting New England cold. It’s a wonder they’ve survived so long with only basic maintenance and the occasional coat of paint, let alone stand so straight and proud.
Alas, even the strongest guardian needs a lift from time to time. That’s why the college will be taking much of the summer to clean and restore the Grecourt Gates to their original glory. Elements lost to years and weather will be remade and replaced, unstable areas strengthened, and pedestrian walkways expanded and upgraded with fine bluestone and a new retaining wall. The Class of 2019 will see the Gates in finer fettle than they’ve been in longer than their parents have been alive, all gleaming black paint and delicate golden details.
It will truly be glorious.
Even more glorious will be what comes next. Neilson Library, the venerable main branch of the campus library system, will be renovated top to bottom. The stacks will be spruced up, some obsolete books moved to off-site archives to make room for new volumes, and old mortar and stone and wood prepared for another century of serving promising young women.
Best of all, the hideous brick additions to the central building that chop the campus in half will be removed or altered under the careful guidance of legendary architect Maya Lin. Lin, daughter of a late 40’s alumna, hopes to restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision of Center Campus as an open sweep of land between the Science and Humanities Quads. I know I’m not the only one of Sophia’s daughters who can’t wait to see the results of her work.
As you’ve probably guessed from the above, I love my alma mater almost to distraction. I’d been a feminist almost since the time I could breathe, and once I learned that two of Second Wave feminism’s greatest lights, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, had both gone to Smith, it was all but inevitable that I’d follow in their footsteps. Faithful readers of these diaries know what happened next, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve willed my papers, my research, and whatever property hasn’t been eaten by the GTPOD to the tender care of what its founder called “a perennial blessing to the nation and the world.”
I’m scarcely the first woman, alumna or not, to do this. The Sophia Smith Collection bulges with the papers of hundreds, probably thousands, of women both prominent and obscure. Virginia Woolf’s letters, Sylvia Plath’s poetry – these treasures and many, many more are archived in the old Alumnae Gym. Mine will go there in due time, and if the curators will scratch their heads at receiving boxes of quilt history research, printouts of smutty fanfiction, and a small group of palm-sized action figures of Mr. Spock, Captain America, etc., in the same collection, they’ve probably seen weirder. Whatever secrets I have will come out in due time no matter what, so why even try to pretend that serious scholarship and crazed fangirling aren’t part of my life?
One of the women whose papers repose in the Alumnae Gym would disagree. This woman, a giant of early 20th century feminism, had a most unusual family connection. Her beloved niece, whom she’d all but raised, lived with a married couple (and sometimes a third woman), sharing a house, four children, and the authorship of at least one book with her beloveds. Not only that, the male in the relationship, a Harvard-educated psychologist/inventor/scriptwriter/self-styled expert on emotional health, had created one of the most important, controversial, and beloved superheroes of all time.
The feminist was Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Her niece, Olive Byrne Richard, was the sometime collaborator and stay at home parent for her spouses, attorney Sadie Elizabeth Holloway Marston and author/psychologist William Moulton Marston. The superhero was Wonder Woman, whose surprising, and surprisingly complicated, history begins with the suffragists in the early 20th century and continues to this day.
Is it any wonder that Margaret Sanger didn’t go out of her way to publicize any of the above?