College Guide


February 28, 2012 10:00 AM What Happend to the Smith Women?

By Daniel Luzer


Last week a Smith College alumna wrote a letter to the campus newsletter, The Sophian, arguing that something seems to be going wrong at her alma mater.

The woman, Anne Spurzem, who graduated in 1984, complained that:

The people who are attending Smith these days [shown at right, admittedly not in their most somber, or sober, moments] are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money…. or D) white heterosexual girls who can’t get into Ivy League schools.
I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships.

And your solution is what? Welcome to the wonderful world of coeducation.

Once selective men’s colleges began to admit women, women’s colleges had to do something distinctive in order to become a place that a high-achieving woman wanted to attend.

“White, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls” didn’t stop going to Smith because of anything Smith did; they stopped going to Smith because schools like Yale and Amherst started to admit women. And once a woman could get into Yale, she was going to go to Yale.

There’s nothing wrong with that. What Spurzem missed is that the demographic that gives significant sums to its alma mater needn’t be white and in pearl necklaces; it just has to be rich.

And Smith can probably do a perfectly good job generating loyal, rich women whether it’s starting out with Emma Willard graduates from Greenwich, Connecticut, or lesbians from Idaho and hard-working girls from Harlem. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Joyce on February 28, 2012 9:28 PM:

    I am a Smith alumna from the days when many Smith students did wear pearls and cashmere; in fact, I was there when things started changing, and I am incredibly happy that Smith is now a much more inclusive institution, welcoming anyone with academic ability.

  • curtrice on March 01, 2012 10:06 AM:

    Nicely put. I used this case to write a little about diversity, and one of my points is related to yours: it's possible that one can achieve diversity without sacrificing quality. And that is even more true if one is willing to think a little about what "quality" means.

    I put a few thoughts from the Spurzem letter into "Two lessons on diversity from Smith College" at