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Margaret Storrs Grierson

June 29, 1900 - December 12, 1997 (May 1998)

The death of an old friend in 1995 prompted our founder, Margaret Grierson, to muse: "I am not sad at the news of my old pal's departure, but just full of long-time love and laughter, maybe spiced by a dash of envy." When Margaret died on December 12th after a short illness she was clearly ready to go, serene in the knowledge of a life well-lived. Some of the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives "family," who have known and loved her over the years, were less ready to let go of their living link with the past.

In 1946 Mary Beard, historian and early friend of the SSC, believed that "a truly Great Awakening as to women in history" was taking place at Smith College due in large part to Margaret's "exceptional [competence and]...wide and peculiarly penetrating mind." With no formal training as a historian or archivist, Margaret somehow managed to embody all the qualities that suited her perfectly for the job. She combined superior intellect and delicate perception; social grace; and above all, a magical way with pen and typewriter that warmly conveyed her sympathetic grasp of the archival material received.

Margaret Storrs Grierson, n.d.
Margaret Storrs Grierson, undated (Courtesy of Smith College Archives)

Lack of formal training gave her a certain freedom. In a 1995 letter, Margaret wrote: "[I] never ever ceased to rejoice that my seas were uncharted,--free of 'rules' which mechanize spirit...." She believed herself lucky to be left "open to the sway of shifting perception [aided by] plain common sense and saving humor." From her pioneering contribution to women's history--a field that did not even exist when the SSC was founded in 1942 except in the fertile mind of Mary Beard--to the sheer hard work she put in every day to keep her three enterprises afloat, Margaret Grierson was an inspiration to all of us.

Though she had retired from her positions as Director of the SSC, College Archivist, and Executive Secretary of the Friends of the Smith College Library in 1965, "Mrs. G." continued to be an integral part of the SSC/CA "happy gang" (as she liked to call us.) Never one to interfere or intrude, she had to be coaxed to give an opinion, yet she was always generous with her institutional memory and enthusiastic applause from the sidelines. In more subtle ways she was, and will continue to be, a constant presence. As we go about our daily work the bounty of the fabulous collections she acquired during the years when women's history scholarship was in its infancy is ever apparent. Thousands of "heavenly" letters to the donors who became her lifelong friends attest to her virtuosity as a correspondent. Her daybooks, packed with notes on visits and meetings, remind us how unstintingly she gave of herself to, as she put it, "make assured the future of these enterprises...which are so dear to my heart and so incomparably valuable to the College."

As a friend, Mrs. G. gave us a welcome and refreshing glimpse of a more gracious era. She observed every politeness and exhibited an almost childlike delight in beautiful things. Deeply private and modest, Mrs. G. shunned recognition for all her accomplishments. Despite her disdain for personal ambition, discerning people such as Mary Beard "got a sharp sense of [Margaret's] force." Her refinement was complimented by a cosmopolitan sensibility. Not one to suffer fools gladly, she left visitors to her "aerie" laughing with flashes of her dry wit. The younger generations who met Margaret Grierson glimpsed the best of an earlier era.

In response to recent SSC/CA undertakings, Mrs. G. wrote to one staff member: "....[Y]ou are happily and constantly in my thoughts with admiration, delight and curiosity about what next." The caretakers of her creation will continue to be informed by her spirit. Our effort to do justice to Margaret Grierson's lifework is imbued with the hope that she will continue to like "what next."

-Amy Hague


For more information, see the Margaret Grierson Papers in the Smith College Archives.


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