Bertha Capen Reynolds Urges Kimball to Admit Black Students, early 1930s

As Associate Director, Bertha Capen Reynolds wrote a formal letter to Everett Kimball, Director, laying out her reasons for why she believed black students should be accepted to the SSW. Black students were not formally banned from the school, but Kimball felt it would be too difficult to find a placement for them.

This was not an unrealistic fear, because placing their black students in internships and residencies was something all professional schools struggled with because of the refusal of most white hospitals and law firms to admit black doctors, nurses, and lawyers. Indeed, the vast majority of black doctors and nurses graduated from a handful of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, most of which were connected to black hospitals.

Bertha Capen Reynolds, “45th St.” Photographer: Unrecorded, 1933, RG 60 Box 1315, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

Bertha Capen Reynolds, however, refused to accept the difficulties. She explained her refusal by pointing to the transformational period she taught at Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University in Atlanta, GA. She was also likely inspired by her growing connection to Communism. The Communist Party in the USA was one of the few large political parties actively debating how to end racism and improve the lives of African Americans.

Reynolds drafted her letter very carefully in order to appear rational and practical to Kimball, rather than arguing out of emotion that he could easily dismiss. Kimball’s work at the Smith College did not shield him from pernicious stereotypes of the day about a women’s capacity for reason.

The young folks are eager to get scientific and psychiatrically sound approaches to the world wide problems of race adjustment which are … among the most vital and pressing of problems for practical social work to solve.

Bertha Capen Reynolds to Everett Kimball, “Re Negro Students,” written while Reynolds was Associate Director (1924-1935), likely in the early 1930s, Bertha Capen Reynolds Papers #128, Box 3, Sophia Smith Collection, Northampton, MA.

black and white photo of four people sitting in skirts and one person in pants standing.

Naomi Schott, Reggie Armundson and other students after SSW began accepting black students, 1950, Photographer: Unrecorded, RG 60 Box 1315, School of Social Work Records, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.