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Laura Woolsey Lord Scales

Laura Woolsey Lord Scales

Laura Woolsey Lord was born on November 13, 1879 in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she spent all of her childhood and most of her adolescence. She completed high school at Miss Frances Emerson’s boarding school in Boston before entering Smith College as an undergraduate. Scales, a member of the class of 1901, attended Smith while it was still relatively new and the reputation of the College depended on the students’ public decorum. By this time, women were accepted as students even if they were not yet encouraged to pursue higher education and Scales did not consider herself a pioneer in women’s education.

After college Scales married Robert Latham Scales, who had been courting her while she was at Smith. The two were married just four years when he died of tuberculosis. After his death, Scales, now twenty-eight years old, was forced to enter the workforce. Although it was not easy during these times for women to find public employment, Scales was soon offered a position as an instructor at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She spent seven years there before accepting the duty as dean of women at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was only employed there for two years before she was offered a similar position in 1922 and returned to her alma mater, Smith College.

As Smith College “Warden,” Scales served as the dean of students, in charge of housing students, chaperoning on-campus activities, and arranging guest visits to the College. In addition, Scales chaired the committee of social activities and was a member of the conference committee. Scales was extremely dedicated to improving the campus atmosphere for students. As an undergraduate, Scales had lived off-campus and as a result, felt that she had not experienced much of the campus life, activity, and camaraderie that went on in the dormitories. One of the first changes she instilled as warden was to require that all students live on-campus. This decision added to the family atmosphere that Smith had always prided itself on and thus helped to unify the students and increase school spirit. Scales also valued the opinions of the students and met regularly with members of the Student Government Association in order to ensure that Smith kept up with the ever-changing educational customs and social trends. In addition, it was also Scales’ responsibility to make sure that the rules and regulations of Smith College paralleled those in students’ homes. Scales served as warden for twenty-two years before retiring in 1944.

During her time at Smith, Scales remained an active member of her community and her influence reached far beyond the Smith gates. She spent twenty-six years on the board of trustees at the People’s Institute, a Northampton community center, and also served on the advisory committee of the Girls City Club of Northampton. In 1931, Scales was awarded an honorary degree from Smith and in 1939 she became the third woman ever to receive an honorary doctor of literature degree from Dartmouth College. In 1936, Smith College showed their appreciation for all she had done for the school by naming one of the new dormitories the Laura Scales House.

After her retirement, Scales spent thirty years in Dunedin, Florida before returning to Northampton, Massachusetts. To Scales, education was “the backbone of living. It makes the world interesting.” This mentality stayed with her for her whole life; she lived to be one hundred ten years old and remained an avid reader almost until her dying day. She died on June 12, 1990 in her Northampton nursing home.

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