A Century of Thesis Titles, 1920-2017

A core part of the curriculum from 1920-2017, the thesis required students to examine a social problem in light of existing research and make some suggestions for its solution.

Students celebrated turning in their thesis each year. One year they had a celebratory run across the skit stage. For many years, students created costumes representing their thesis subject for an end of summer party. Later, they decorated their doors to celebrate the end of their thesis.

“Handing in Thesis,” 1947, Photographer: Gertrude Elowitz, MSS 1947, RG 60 Box 1315, School of Social Work Records, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

“Storytelling in the Archives” 1993, School for Social Work Records, RG 60, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

Color photo of decorated door

Thesis door, 2001, Photographer: Unrecorded, School for Social Work Records, RG 60 Acc# 00A-125, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

Jacqueline Young Leftwich, M. S. W. 1958, Photographer: Unrecorded. School for Social Work Records, RG 60 Box 1315, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

Below, you will find images and videos of these celebrations as well as word clouds. The word clouds were built from the titles of the theses from each decade. The larger words represent the more common words. It combines single and plural words and does not include numbers (for instance, many titles included the number of people studied). These word clouds are an imprecise but interesting way to get a sense of what each decade was interested in. However, keep in mind that up until the 1960s, students had limited autonomy in picking their subject. In the early decades, they worked on questions their their field supervisors wanted researched. In the middle decades, they often collaborated with SSW professors on research projects.

To navigate through the word clouds, click on an image to enlarge it and then use the arrows on either side to move backwards and forwards between the decades.

You can also peruse the titles and frequency of words that went into the creation of these images.

One of the first printed list of Thesis Requirements (1923-24)

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“Policy of the School Concerning Theses,” 1923-24, School for Social Work RG 60 Box 1314.1, College Archives, Smith College, Northampton, MA.