Pontiac Varsity Show at Smith College

December 18, 2008

Long before SmithTV, MP3s, social networking sites and other electronic media entertained students, an odd creature called the ‘variety show’ was popular.  A hodge-podge of talented students and faculty would get together to entertain the Smith community, and show off their own talents.

A country-wide radio program called the “Pontiac Varsity Show” sponsored by General Motors showcased the talents of many collegians.  A show was broadcast on-air from John M. Greene Hall on December 10, 1937, with a packed house.  For several weeks before the show, ads appeared in the Smith College Weekly like the one below, seeking auditions from Smith talent.

Tryout ad for Pontiac Variety Show, 1927

Tryout ad for Pontiac Variety Show, 1927

By the time the show aired, the Glee Club, under the direction of Ivan T. Gorokhoff sang Fair Smith and other songs; Mary Jane Ripley ‘1938 & Charlotte Wirsing ‘1937 played a piano duet; Clara Taplin ‘1938 sang a Strauss song; and the Smith College Orchestra played the final movement of Mozart’s Symphony in E Flat Major, under the baton of Werner Josten.  In addition to Smith’s talented, Catherine Craven, who was NBC’s only female commentator at the time was featured in the show.

Ads in the Smith College Weekly urged everyone to come to the show to enjoy the excitement.

Pontiac Varsity Show announcement, Dec 8, 1937

Pontiac Varsity Show announcement, Dec 8, 1937

Both students and faculty of Smith College have a long tradition of creating their own shows.  More about these shows will be addressed in a future blog column!

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Student Activism at Smith

December 11, 2008

Records in the Archives reveal student activists have been working hard at Smith throughout its history, to bring awareness of and change to social, political, consumer, racial and gender challenges in the world.

The following images reflect some of the activist work by students on campus.  They have worked for women’s suffrage;

Student Petition to Organize Suffrage Club 1915

Student Petition to Organize Suffrage Club 1915

led boycotts against purchasing Japanese silk products as a way to curtail the Sino-Japanese War.  The boycott lasted a number of years and hit the Smith-fashion crowd hard, as this editorial cartoon from a December 1937 issue of the Smith College Weekly suggests.!

That Japanese Boycott, 1937

That Japanese Boycott, 1937

Marching to Support Hungary, 1956

Marching to Support Hungary, 1956

Students marched in sympathy for Hungarian students in 1956 when the Soviets invaded the country.

Voting Rights march in Northampton, 1960

Voting Rights march in Northampton, 1960

They took up political protests for African-American voting rights in 1960.  This image shows Smith students marching in downtown Northampton.

divestiture 1986

Occupation of College Hall re: divestiture 1986

Students participated in the Strike of 1970 activities against the Vietnam War and forced the College to consider divestiture of its South African ties in 1986.  Today’s students are more likely to protest corporate injustice, labor relations, and push for ecological sustainability.  Come view records of all sorts regarding student activism in the College Archives!


Mysteries of Yoga

December 9, 2008

For those of you who may believe that yoga is a relatively new offering to campus, the December 1, 1937 issue of the Smith College Weekly announces a lecture by Kovoor T. Behanan, of Yale University’s Institute of Human Relations titled, “the Mysteries of Yoga” where he discusses the ‘psychology of yoga and it’s allied potentialites of the mind.’   Behanan wrote two best-selling books on the subject: Yoga (1937) and Yoga: A Scientific Evaluation (1957).


Holiday Vesper Services at Smith

December 5, 2008

This weekend the College will hold its annual Christmas Vespers service in John M. Green Hall (Dec 7, 2008 4:00pm and 7:30pm). Did you know that the Vesper services were held from early in the College’s history?

An entry in the diary of Lydia Kendall, Class of 1895 for December 1892 describes then-president, L. Clark Seelye “His face fairly shown with the joy that he felt…He spoke to us very tenderly and very sweetly and left us with many lovely thoughts.” The musical portion of the service had a soloist, organ music, a violinist, and the choir.

Christmas Vesper Service 1892

Christmas Vesper Service 1892

Antiphonal singing between the choir and congregation began in the early 1900s. This program documents the songs and verse used in the 1906 service:

Christmas Vesper Service program 1906

Christmas Vesper Service program 1906

Once John M. Greene Hall was completed in 1909, the service was opened up to members of the Northampton and surrounding communities. If you attend this weekend’s services, you may see scenes similar to these from 1947:

Smith-Amherst Glee Club performance, 1947

Smith-Amherst Glee Club performance, 1947

Audience at Christmas Vespers in John M. Greene Hall, n.d.

Audience at Christmas Vespers in John M. Greene Hall, n.d.