Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence (Mrs. Samuel Fessenden Clarke)
Smith College holds a long tradition of notable and accomplished alumnae, and Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence (1883) is no exception. As the first Smith alumna after whom a college dormitory was named (Lawrence House), Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence (called “Lizzy” by her family and “Tip” or “Tippy” while in college) excelled in accomplishments while at Smith, and continued to be a leader in Alumnae communications after graduation.
Born November 11, 1861, Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence lived with her two brothers, George and Ned, and her father, Amos Edward Lawrence, and was “brought up by different aunts and friends until Papa remarried” 1). A congregational minister, her father retired to Newton Center where he lived with his family, and where Elizabeth graduated from Newton High School in 1879 2). Though the reasons remain unclear, Miss Lawrence joined Smith as a Sophomore in the fall of 1880, and experienced quite a bit of homesickness her first month. She inscribes on the top of a letter from her stepmother, Lucy Watson Davis, “1st letter after they left me at college. They had spent a week at Round Hills (Northampton), rather a mistake for me I think as I spent all my spare time with them instead of making friends— and then others were all settled when folks left me” 3). However, further correspondences are more reassuring. A letter from “Papa” as early as September 24th (1880) reads “Dear ‘Tip’”, (after hearing of her nickname). A particularly amusing letter from her brother Ned (who attended Keene) arrived in early October, and reveals a fully adjusted Elizabeth C. Lawrence: “I am sorry to hear that your college life is getting so terribly dissipating—going to the theatre with Amherst students—going to masquerades—balls—and living on chocolate creams. I fear that you will set a very bad example to such model young ladies as are supposed to inhabit Northampton” 4).
While in college at Smith, Miss Lawrence lived in Hubbard House, number 23, and frequently attended shows at the nearby Opera House, recitals of music students, and outings to other college towns. Her older brother George attended Amherst, which also made for an easier transition from home to college, as they were able to connect quite easily. Though the students in Lawrence’s day had less of a variety of classes to choose from than those of today, nonetheless the students had electives, and took classes spanning the disciplines in the liberal arts tradition. Following the schedules meticulously saved in the pages of her scrapbook, Lawrence took classes in such diverse subjects as physics, German, French, Greek, Shakespeare, psychology, the Bible, gometry, and political economics, to name a few. Also quite an accomplished athlete, Miss Lawrence was involved with both rowing and tennis while in college, and she has the distinction of placing first in Smith College’s first ever tennis tournament in the fall of 1882, her senior year 5).
After graduating in 1883, Elizabeth Lawrence spent a year abroad travelling in such places as England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Austria, and Italy 6). She returned to Smith for a Masters degree in 1889 and continued to support her alma mater. According to a 1999 article in the Miami Herald, she advised the school on physical education, and Lawrence House, the dormitory in her name, was so named “to recognize Elizabeth’s skill in raising $100,000 to match an offer from John D. Rockefeller Sr” 7). From 1901 to 1912 she served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of College Alumnae (American Association of University Women) 8), and was President of the Alumnae Association from 1909-1911 9). Because of her incredible involvement both as a student and as an active alumna, former (and first) Smith President L. Clarke Seelye drafted her help in 1915 for the student life section in his Early History of Smith College. 10)
For a time, Elizabeth lived in Williamstown, MA, where her husband, Samuel Fesseden Clarke, was a professor at Williams College 11). During this time, their daughter Beth graduated from Smith as a member of the class of 1916 12). Detailed accounts of attendance at Commencement reveal that, among the 70 commencements between 1879 and 1948, Elizabeth Lawrence was present at 56 of them, and gives full reasons for each of the 14 other absences. She attended 12 out of 14 class reunions since 1883, and 44 of the 56 reunions for the class of 1876, adding, “I think that I hold the record” 13). Indeed, a 1948 article in the Berkshire County Eagle reveals her to be the last surviving member at her 65th reunion 14).
Between the years of 1926-1931, Mrs. Elizabeth Lawrence Clarke began wintering in Sarasota, Florida, making the move permanent in 1949. While in residence there, she founded the Smith College Club of Sarasota, Florida (1947), held an office in the American Association of University Women, and was secretary-treasurer of the Naples (Italy) table, which was an organization formed to aid scientific research for women. As for hobbies, the author of the article claims, “when charming, active, Mrs. Clarke is not working puzzles or keeping up with her reading, she can be seen during the big league training season, attending the baseball games over in Payne Park…and rooting for the Red Sox…‘my home state boys’”15)
Before passing away in 1951 at the age of 89, Elizabeth Lawrence Clarke donated her portrait to the Smith College Art Museum in an attempt to clean out her Massachusetts home. The likeness now hangs in the Lawrence House living room to honor her memory and valuable influence on the early days of Smith College. 16)