Helen Fairchild Smith was the daughter of William Augustus Smith, the fifth president of Wesleyan University. In 1876 she became Lady Principal and Professor of English Literature at Wells College. She put in twenty nine years of service at Wells College. From 1894 until 1905 she was the Dean of the College. At one point in the middle of transitioning between presidents of the college Helen F. Smith stepped in, thus signing all her letters “H.F. Smith, Acting President.” She did this on her own, so unofficially she gave herself the title of “Acting President.” She served on the Board of Trustees from 1887 until her death in 1926. She was a friend and mentor to First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland and visited her in the White House.
As Jane March Dieckmann writes in Wells College: A History, “she had a well-trained mind and maintained high intellectual standards. Colonel Morgan reportedly once said of her ‘to know Miss Smith was a liberal education’. Her standards of behavior were equally high and, with the often repeated words, ‘Never forget you are a Wells girl’, she taught the young women to behave properly – politely, graciously, honestly” (83).
“Alumnae remembered her with deep affection and true admiration, and their devotion was reflected in a gift to the college of a building in her name. She also served as a focal point for women closely connected to the institution…she was the chief link among the women faculty who lived in Main Building, faculty wives, trustee wives, and influential alumnae. She was important in the college’s administration while there was gradual shift toward greater female representation” (84).
She was so revered by the alumnae that they named a building after her, which became the Helen Fairchild Smith Hall. Additionally there is an alcove in the front of the dining hall bearing her name. The class of 1900-01 also dedicated their yearbook to her.
The Helen Fairchild Smith Collection contains correspondence between Ms. Smith and numerous people. The collection also contains many personal diaries from 1864-1925.
From Jane Marsh Diechmann’s “Wells College: A History” pages 83-84 and items in the Helen Fairchild Smith Collection in the Wells College Archives.
More information can be found in the Wells College Archives.
Summary compiled by Nicole Di Mauro ’12