Smith College has had a number of notable alumni since it was founded in 1871. From politicians to activists to writers, Smith alumni have been breaking ground in a variety of areas for a century and a half. Here are just a few Smith alums who have gone on to do great things after graduation.
1. Sylvia Plath
A successful author and poet, Sylvia Plath attended Smith on a scholarship and graduated in 1955. While there, she won a Mademoiselle fiction contest and spent a summer as a guest editor at the magazine’s New York headquarters, a location that would later inspire the setting in her novel “The Bell Jar.” After graduation, she studied at Cambridge University on a Fulbright grant, publishing a collection of poetry titled “The Colossus” in 1960 and “The Bell Jar” in 1963. A second volume of poetry, titled “Ariel,” was published in 1965 and was comprised of poems found in the years after her suicide in 1963.
2. Otelia Cromwell
Otelia Cromwell graduated from Smith in 1900 and spent her working life teaching. First as a public school teacher in segregated Washington, D.C., then as a professor at Miner Teachers College. She also worked to advocate for desegregation and racial and gender equality, and was an editor for the text “Readings From Negro Authors for Schools and Colleges." She also served on the board of directors for “The Encyclopedia of the Negro.” She was the first black woman to graduate from Smith.
3. Piper Kerman
Piper Kerman is the author of the memoir “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison," which was published in 2010 and which inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black.” She graduated from Smith in 1992. Now out of prison, she works with nonprofit organizations and also serves on the board of directors for the Women’s Prison Association, advocating for the rights of incarcerated women and their families. She has also testified for several U.S. government committees on women prisoners and solitary confinement.
4. Gloria Steinem
The co-founder of Ms. Magazine, a publication focused on feminism and women’s issues, Gloria Steinem graduated from Smith in 1956. In addition to her journalism work, she has published several books on feminism, has been published in multiple magazines and has produced two documentary films. She has also been involved in feminist activism and helped found the Women’s Action Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
5. Yolanda King
The daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and an activist, author and actress, Yolanda King graduated from Smith in 1976. She acted in several films, playing Rosa Parks in the miniseries “King” in 1978, Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X’s wife) in “Death of a Profit” in 1981 and acting in “Selma, Lord, Selma” in 1999. In addition to her acting, she was an activist and served on the board of directors for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. and was the founding director of the King Center’s Cultural Affairs Program.
6. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
A 2002 graduate, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. She’s originally from Pakistan and her home country has been the subject of many of her films. This includes the 2012 Saving Face, which discusses acid attacks against Pakistani women, and the 2015 A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness, which shares the story of a rare survivor of Pakistan’s “honor killings.” She has won two Oscars for her documentaries and was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, the second highest Pakistani civilian award, in 2012.
7. Julia Child
Julia Child is most famous for her numerous cooking shows, which introduced French cuisine to American viewers by showing simple ways to prepare meals and teaching simple cooking techniques. She graduated from Smith in 1934 and went on to study cooking in France in the 1950s. She later opened a cooking school called L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes with her friend Louisette Bertolle.
8. Tammy Baldwin
A member of the class of 1984, Tammy Baldwin went on to serve as a Democratic senator from Wisconsin as the state’s first female member of Congress and the country’s first openly gay senator. In Congress, she helped champion the Affordable Care Act and introduced the America’s College Promise Act and the Working Student Act. She also led efforts to keep federal funding for low-income students.
9. Sherry Rehman
Sherry Rehman graduated from Smith in 1985 and since then, she has filled multiple roles in Pakistan’s government. She was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2002 and now serves as the Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. While serving in Pakistan, she led bills for women’s empowerment and against honor killings and domestic violence, and she was awarded the title “Democracy’s Hero” by the International Republican Institute for her work to maintain democracy.
10. Farah Pandith
A member of the class of 1990, Farah Pandith served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She served on the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council from 2015-2017 and also worked on their subcommittee to combat violent extremism. She also was the first special representative to Muslim communities across the world and served under both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry.
As you’re heading off to Smith this fall, take a minute to read up on some of the incredible people who have graduated from the college. You just may find some inspiration.
Lead Image Credit: Nancy Canevari