Thanksgiving at Smith

Over the years, the celebration of Thanksgiving Day at Smith has taken a variety of forms.  In the early days of the College, Thanksgiving day itself was the only day the students had as a recess day.  In later years, the Wednesday and Friday surrounding Thanksgiving was given to the students.  Those who were able to often traveled home for those days.  Others remained behind and created their own Thanksgiving holidays with faculty, house-mothers, staff or other students.

This image is of Thanksgiving Day 1900 at Washburn House shows fellow Washburn-ites sharing a meal.  A similar photograph revealed the parent of one of the students dining with them.  Unfortunately, that image was too dark to reproduce here:

Thanksgiving Day at Washburn House, 1900

The College Archives has many letters written by students relating their Thanksgiving Day activities.  Here are a few excerpts from some of those letters:

From Madelaine Wallin, Dec 3, 1894:

“…College closed Wednesday P.M.  last week and since then I have been doing a variety of things…There was a big dinner at Thanksgiving–eleven courses!  About twenty of the girls stayed instead of going home and it was a time of general jollification.  We had oysters on half shell (big, fat ones), tomato soup, turkey, potato, etc.  then chicken pie by itself, quail and toast, salad and ice cream or rather, frozen pudding with candied fruits, fruit, candy and nuts.  Then we went into the parlor for coffee…”

Fanny Garrison, Class of 1901, on Nov 25th reports:

“I have had a most happy Thanksgiving, and quite contrary to my expectations.  Friday, all day long, I was about as blue and anxious for home as I could be, but by night, I settled down, and ever since I have been on the highest pinnicle of bliss.  There were practically eight of us…and we went to Mrs. Southwick’s little parlor and sat around talking and playing games or reading.  I cuddled up to Mrs. Campbell.  It seemed something like being near Grandma…After a while–about seven–we changed back to our old clothes and went out for a tramp in the snow–for the rain of the morning had turned to snow…”

In 1899, the faculty and president voted not to extend the Thanksgiving holiday more than the official day itself.  This decision, not surprisingly did not sit well with the students, who rebelled.  Katharine F. Berry, Class of 1902 wrote to her parent on Oct 29th after the announcement was made:

“…There has been great excitement in the college this past week, for Prexy got up and announced without stating special reasons…that Thanksgiving recess would be limited…He said Thanksgiving is not what it used to be, and that the spirit of it had changed, Christmas having been substituted for it.  Now but very few girls can go home, and it will be hardly worthwhile then, and the great majority must stay; such a disappointment.”

The students petitioned the President and the faculty to change their minds.  So loud was their displeasure that the local papers reported later that the faculty backed-off their decision. Headlines in the Worcester Spy read: Smith Girls Win: ‘We do not make war; we arbitrate’ Is the Way President Seelye Puts It–But the Students Get their Regular Thanksgiving Turkey–Faculty Eat Crow.

At other points in time, most notably during the war years (both First and Second), the Thanksgiving holiday was short and spent mostly on campus. 

In some cases today students have already started their travels home or to a place they’ll call ‘home’ for the break.  Walking to work on campus this morning the quiet and lack of bodies on the College’s sidewalks made for a great impression.  Everyone will be back to work come Monday, November 29th, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation that Thanksgiving Break can give.

Enjoy your holiday with family and friends!

To read more about how Smith students celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, come visit the College Archives.



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