Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Campus Landscape Master Plan

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Institution Name: Smith College
Original/Historic Place Name: Campus Landscape Master Plan
Location on Campus: bounded by Elm St., Green St., Kensington St., and West St.
Date(s) of Construction:
ca. 1871original master plan
1893landscape plan Olmsted, Frederick Law
1995subsequent landscape plan (following Olmsted) Rolland/Towers Oberlander
Designer: Frederick Law Olmsted (1893); Rolland/Towers w/Oberlander (1995)
Type of Place: Building group
Style: Romanesque revival, Beaux-Arts classicism, Colonial revival, Modern/post-WWII, Gothic revival, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
ca. 2004-present (2006)master plan (landscape)
ca. 2004-present (2006)master plan (campus)

Smith College was founded in 1871 at the bequest of Sophia Smith, who wanted to support an educational institution that prepared women in studies "comparable to those now afforded to men." In this way, Smith College was different from other women's colleges, which up to that time had been based on the seminary method of teaching and residential life. Smith students were expected to pass preliminary examinations and were schooled in classical languages, natural history and philosophy, the bible, and the arts. The residential housing system is one of Smith's unique contributions to higher education. Developed around small houses with a limited number of students living in them, the Smith residential system based itself along the ties of family life: students were expected to eat their meals in a dining room at regular houses, and housemothers (often women faculty) lived within the houses and acted as the social and moral arbiter for the students. Women engaged in both intellectual and physical rigors, since it was believed that both would make a positive contribution to a student's education. The campus was structured so that the students were engaged in some type of activity throughout most of their free time. Walks were encouraged around campus, in town, and in the surrounding neighborhoods; longer trips were sponsored by the college. The campus is an integral part of a Smith College woman's experience and has been since the founding of the campus.

The first landscape master plan was created by Frederick Law Olmsted at the request of the first president of the college, L. Clark Seelye. The first master plan was to be used as a guide to the physical and botanical layout of the college. Following in the footsteps of the Olmsted plan, the modern team of Rolland/Towers created a landscape master plan in the mid-1900s, which reclaimed the best of the Olmsted plan.


Dober, Richard P. Campus Architecture: Building in the Groves of Academe. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Dober, Richard P. Campus Landscape: Functions, Forms, Features. New York: Wiley, 2000.

Lincoln, Eleanor Terry, and John Abel Pinto. This, the House We Live In: Smith College Campus from 1872-1982. Northampton, MA: Trustees of Smith College) 1983.

Rolland/Towers. Smith College Landscape Master Plan. [Rolland/Towers, New Haven, CT], 1995.


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Last update: November 2006