I love my friends dearly, but if I wanted to actually count on a group of women to plot a revolution, change a tire or host a tea, I’d gather up some Smithies.
There’s a shorthand that happens when I’m among Smith alumnae. I don’t have to over-explain myself; I can just be myself. This is why I give to The Smith Fund every year. Not just because I value what Smith has given me and wish to give back, but because Smith literally helped me define who I am.
For me, growing up in the Seattle suburbs, attending Smith was a surprising choice. Many of my friends had never been east of the mountains, let alone to the East Coast; their parents looked at me as if I were headed off to Mars. You just wait, I thought to myself, smugly. I’m going to tear down the patriarchy and you won’t even see it coming!
I grew up in an era when it was understood that girls could do anything, it was OK for boys to cry, and if I was the one to make them cry—even better! Then I got to junior high and watched my social studies teacher pull female students onto his lap to discuss grades, and heard my swim coach’s refrain, “Faster, or you’ll get fat.” When I won the state championships, the news barely made my high school newspaper, but you can bet that news of the football team did.
Armed with advice from an independent college counselor whom I deeply admired (a Smithie) and an active Smith admission team, I set my sights on Smith. I wrote essays about birth control and Lysistrata, applied early and got in.
In head-to-toe L.L. Bean, along with my grandmother’s pearls, I showed up in 1988 thinking orientation might be a kind of lock-step feminist boot camp where we would be armed with all the right books and verbal artillery. Instead, I discovered that a woman across the hall had come to Smith because she thought it would give her the best shot at marrying a Kennedy; another had her nose so deep in Toni Morrison we worried she might miss all of orientation; down the hall, I met “Wild Wendy” in heavy combat boots tacking Guns N’ Roses posters all over her ceiling.
Where were all the bra-burning feminists? I quickly realized that I was perhaps the most judgmental and small-minded one in all of Gardiner House. “You’re snotty and stuck up,” Wendy said to me on day two. But then she added, “weird and funny, too.” And that, my friends, was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
My years at Smith helped me to open my mind, think more critically, get along with just about anyone—and most important, find the courage to channel my energies into collaborative, good work. I majored in American studies, was named an All-American in swimming at nationals, studied in England, volunteered at the Historic Northampton museum, played oboe in a chamber group and stayed up into the wee hours discussing art and ancient history, authors and agriculture—and yes, feminism.
Since graduation, I’ve worked as a deck-hand and a journalist, a marketer and a manager. I rode the online wave of the 1990s until it crashed. I became a widow at age 33. I started my own business, got bored and decided to become a writer. Throughout the journey, it’s been my Smith identity that’s charted the course. And now, with the world changing all around us, and as I find myself looking to guide a spirited teenage daughter of my own, I trust more than ever that it will be the next generation of Smithies who will lead the way.
SAQ, Spring 2017
Freelance writer Allison Ellis ’92 was recently awarded a Smith College Volunteer Leadership Award for her work on behalf of the Seattle Smith Club.
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