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Jordan, Mary Augusta

Mary Augusta Jordan [*Mary Augusta Jordan Professorship]

Mary Augusta Jordan was born on July 5, 1855 in Ironton, Ohio. She was the daughter of Edward Jordan, who was appointed Solicitor of the United States Treasury by President Lincoln, and Augusta Woodbury Ricker Jordan. She was one of Smith College’s star English instructors and her passing was greatly mourned by the academic world she left behind with her death on April 14, 1941. When her father retired from public office and the family moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, she enrolled in Vassar College where she graduated in 1876, Phi Beta Kappa at the age of twenty-one. Jordan continued with her education at Vassar and received her M.A. in 1878. She was first a librarian (1877-1880) and later an English instructor at Vassar until her departure in 1884.

Jordan left Vassar in order to teach at the recently founded Smith College at the behest of President Seelye. Known for her independent nature, she was soon a well recognized figure in Northampton and on the college campus. She was a much loved and well-respected instructor in Rhetoric and English, and known for her well intended but sharp wit and constructive criticism. Her home was always open for students to gain access to her extensive library or her ready advice. Although she published few articles, she was known as the star of the English Department and quickly ascended to be first the head and later the chairman of the English Department. Smith College awarded her the honorary degree, Doctor of Human Letters, in 1910.

Her independent nature and love of learning lead her to devote her entire life to teaching. She was briefly engaged to her cousin, David Starr Jordan, but the relationship did not last. She instead spent her life galvanizing her students’ love of learning. She spent a great deal of her time away from the school on extended stays in the homes of friends and family. She made her home while at Smith, just outside Northampton with her younger sister, Elizabeth Jordan Dimock.

Mary Augusta Jordan retired from Smith in 1922, after thirty-seven years of service. She continued to remain active however, and concerned herself with the affairs of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut, the area which she moved to after retirement. She was a deeply religious person, although nonsectarian, and the affairs of the Roman Catholic school interested her deeply. It was at 42 Lincoln Street in New Haven, Connecticut, near the home of her niece where Mary fell ill. She died soon after on April 14, 1941, at the age of sixty-five. She left behind an extensive legacy at Smith College, and in 1922 after her retirement, was remembered by Smith College in three ways. There is a Smith house, located in the quad, named Jordan in her honor. The English department also named the Mary Augusta Jordan professorship in remembrance of their colleague. The prize, which is now defunct, was a small scholarship for students who excelled in English literature, named the Mary Augusta Jordan Prize.

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