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Smith's Century of Progress

Smith At “A Century of Progress” in Chicago

In 1933 Smith College was one of two women’s colleges to have a booth at the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair that opened in May. The booth was the brainchild of members of the Smith Club of Chicago and the Alumnae Association brought the idea to the College trustees in the spring of 1932. The trustees placed Trustee in Residence, Mrs. Harriet (Bliss) Ford, Class of 1899 in charge of the arrangements, and along with Betty (Knight) Aldrich, Class of 1903, and other members of the Smith Club of Chicago, the booth became a reality. Initially, the Fair hoped that a number of women’s colleges would be represented. There was little support among the Seven Sisters in establishing individual booths, whether due to prohibitive costs or lack of interest. Smith went ahead with plans to design and staff a booth of its own.

A design competition was announced in November 1932 and was open to all students in the Art Department. The booth was to “conform to the ultra modern style of the Fair” and not cost more than $500 to construct. President William A. Neilson, Alumnae Association president Florence Snow, and Harriet B. Ford served as the jury. Three students entered the competition and Virginia Gilbert ’33, submitted the winning design. The booth was constructed by members of the Buildings department, under the supervision of architecture professor Karl Putnam. A mural designed and painted by art professor Oliver Larkin depicted the life of Smith College campus and included a “baloptican” which projected a continuous series of images of campus onto a television screen. Information about the College was available for visitors through publications and alumnae who staffed the booth.

In her Report on the Smith College Booth at the Century of Progress Chicago 1933-1934, Harriet Bliss Ford stated that “the Booth had a definite value in making the college better known to the general public…The fact that the Booth was entirely Smith-made,–its design by an undergraduate, its mural the work of the Art faculty, its plans and specification made by the professor of Architecture, its construction handled by the buildings staff, and its hostesses, alumnae, was the best sort of publicity for the College.” The Smith College booth lasted two seasons at the Fair.

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