Topic Identification: The Cambridge School of Landscape Architecture: Smith Alumnae Respond to the School’s Closing
Following its inception as an independent institution in 1924, The Cambridge School of Landscape Architecture was looking for help. Struggling with debt and low enrollment, the school’s president Henry A. Frost frequently contacted larger and more financially secure schools with the hope of being taken under their wing. His correspondence with Smith’s third president William A. Neilson is well documented and held in the College Archives, spanning 13 years and ending with Neilson’s retirement in 1939. Neilson believed tremendously in The Cambridge School’s mission and worked tirelessly to incorporate it into Smith’s curricula. Acting primarily as a financial crutch for the “little school”, Smith eventually obtained all of its rights (and debt) in 1938. While this seemed to be the beginning of a long legacy of Smith women receiving graduate degrees in a burgeoning field, Frost’s dream was short-lived. President Neilson’s kindness and optimism regarding the school disappeared with his retirement in 1939. With Neilson gone, Frost’s relationship with the school dwindled. In less than two years, Neilson’s predecessor President Herbert Davis announced the closing of the graduate school. Davis notified the school’s alumnae about the closing of the school on February 4th, 1942. It wasn’t long before President Davis was bombarded with an impressive influx of letters from those he had contacted, none of which could understand how the school could be closing. A particularly strong-worded telegram arrived on Davis’ desk on February 19th, 1942, from Alumnae Grace H. Kirkwood. Shortly after her telegram came a two-page letter, explaining in much greater detail how she had been “horrified and amazed to hear the fate of the school”.
Grace H. Kirkwood’s telegram and letter to President Davis exemplify the resonating voice of the Smith Alumnae network. Her rapid and urgent response demonstrates just how much the current activities of the school impacted those who had since graduated. Davis’ announcement clearly shocked the Cambridge School Alumnae, calling into question the present-day morals of the Trustees of Smith as well as the future of the school.
A tremendous collection of archival material documenting The Cambridge School’s history is kept in Smith’s College Archives, found in The Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Records, 1919-1986.
Another relevant collection in the College Archives is the Department of Botany Records, 1892-1966, which illustrate the struggles many women faced in finding employment in scientific fields. The incorporate of Landscape Architecture into women’s education was meant to call upon a specific skill set that could be applied more realistically in the post-graduate world.
1. Anderson, Dorothy May. “Women Design and the Cambridge School”. PDA Publisher’s Corp, 1980.
2. Torre, Susan. Women In American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. Whitney Library of Design, 1977.