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William Allan Neilson

William Allan Neilson printed memorial with tribute from The New York Herald Tribune, February 1946.


For 37 years the building which was geographically and intellectually the heart of the campus was called simply “The Library.” When President William Allan Neilson died in 1946, the Trustees named it as a memorial tribute to him.

William Allan Neilson on Ivy Day, May 1929.


William Allan Neilson, Smith’s third president, died on February 13 at the College Infirmary. He was visiting Northampton to research a history of Smith College that had been commissioned by the Trustees when he became ill. The next morning there was a memorial chapel service; he lay in the Little Chapel until the funeral service in John M. Greene Hall on February 16; he was cremated and later buried in the Botanic Garden.


William Allan Neilson being greeted by students upon his return from France, 4 January 1928.


President Neilson's accomplishments at Smith were many. At a time when a majority of Smith students lived off campus, he set about the task of purchasing and building new residences so that all Smith students could live together on campus. After building the Great Quadrangle, purchasing Capen House, Talbot House, Sessions House, and many others, his goal was completed. During Neilson's 22-year term as president, the campus also saw the additions of Sage Music Hall, Scott Gymnasium, Tryon Art Gallery, the Alumnae House, the Infirmary, and the President's house.

Neilson also established the Junior Year in France, Junior Year in Italy, and the Junior Year in Spain Programs. Special Honors, the Smith College Day School, and the School for Social Work were additions that Neilson made to the college.

To learn more about President Neilson, follow this link to read the text of a lecture on the life and legacy of Smith’s third president by Peter I. Rose, Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology, Smith College. You may also listen to the talk by clicking on the play button symbol below. Professor Rose gave this lecture as part of the Libraries' centennial celebration events on February 18, 2010.