01 August 2017

The Education of Sylvia Plath, Smith College, 1950-1951

Sylvia Plath's education was impressive. She attended grade schools in Winthrop and Wellesley, Massachusetts before matriculating with the class of 1954 at Smith College in Northampton. I have always wanted a single easy way to see which courses Plath was taking and when so as such I have made a series of blog posts on the subject of "The Education of Sylvia Plath". This is the first part, for her first year at Smith College, 1950-1951. Perhaps in time I can go a little further and do something like this for Plath's junior high and high school if the record is complete enough to reconstruct something meaningful.

Using the Smith College course catalogs both in person and via the Archive.org, I have transcribed the courses from these sources that Plath herself would have read. They give an overview of the subject, but to read her notes and syllabi and papers would require traveling to the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington which holds the greatest number of these materials. Smith College itself may have some syllabi in the College Archives.

During her first year at Smith, Plath resided in the ever-yellow Haven House and made much use of the Neilson Library, pictured here. Under English 11 and History 11, I have added the dated papers Plath wrote for the course based on information from the Plath mss II finding aid held by the Lilly Library. Papers are held, along with Plath's notebook for Art 13, are held by the Lilly Library.

Art: Art 13, Basic Design. From the course catalog: "The visual properties of color, light, volume, space, shape, line, texture through study of simple problems dealing with the nature of these elements, the use of materials and their creative application. For Freshman, Sophomores, and Junior transfer students. M 9; eight studio hours of which four must be T W 2-4, Th F 10-12, 2-4. Director, Mr Jules" (51).

Botany 11: General Botany. From the course catalog: "A study of the life processes and structure of seed plants with emphasis upon their relationship to the needs of man. A survey of representative types of other green and nongreen plants; reproduction, heredity, evolution. Two lectures and two two-hour laboratory periods. Lee. Th F 12. Lab. A, M T 9; Lab. B, M T 1 1 ; Lab. C, M T 2; Lab. D, Th F 9; Lab. E, Th F 2. Miss Kemp, Mr Wright (Director), Miss Donahue" (55).

English: English 11, Freshman English. From the course catalog: "Practice in expository and critical writing in connection with the study of selected literary forms. Members of the Department. Director, Miss Chase; Assistant Director, Miss Williams" (71).
"The Golden Season", 16 October 1950;
"Atmosphere in the Short Story", 6 November 1950;
"Character is Fate", 22 November 1950;
"The Agony of the Will", 18 December 1950
"The Dualism of Thomas Mann", 17 January 1951;
"Modern Tragedy in the Classic Tradition", 26 February 1951;
"The Tragedy of Progress", 19 March 1951;
"The Imagery in Patterns", 18 April 1951; and
"A New Idiom", 9 May 1951
French 16: Introduction to French Literature. From the course catalog: "Introduction to French Literature. Choice of representative texts; literary, historical, and cultural background. Prerequisite, three units in French, 12, or 11d. M T W 9, 10, 11, 12; Th F S 9, 10, 11, 12. Members of the Department. (L)" (76).

Plath had first registered for French 13 which was a course in "Reading, Grammar, and Composition. From the course catalog: "Prerequisite, three units in French, 12, or 11D. M T W 9, 12; TH F S 9, 10, 11. Members of the Department" (76).

History: History 11, General European History. From the course catalog: "A survey of the history of Europe from the decline of the Roman Empire to the present. One lecture and two recitations. Lec. M 2. Rec. T W 10, 11, 12, 2; Th F 9, 10, 11, 12. Members of the Department. Director, Mr von Klemperer" (87). Plath was largely History taught by Mrs. Koffka.
"Darwin, Marx, Wagner", 1951
Physical Education 1a, 1b: Body Mechanics, Dance, and Sports.1 From the course catalog: "Three periods of one hour each. Required for Freshman.

1.A fee is charged for golf, riding, campcraft, and winter sports.

Fall Term. One period, body mechanics; two periods, swimming for those who have not passed the test, for others a choice of the following:

Archery, canoeing, crew, golf, hockey, riding, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball.
Individual Gymnastics. Miss Ryder, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, modern and folk. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning.

Winter Term. One period, fundamental movement; two periods, a choice of:

Badminton, basketball, bowling, children's games, fencing, riding, squash, swimming.
Individual Gymnatics [sic.]. Miss Ryder, Miss Jennings, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, continuing the fall course and new sections. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning.

Spring Term. One period, rhythmic work or body mechanics; two periods, beginning swimming for those who have not passed the test, for others a choice of:

Archery, campcraft, canoeing, children's rhythms, crew, golf, lacrosse, riding, softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball.
Individual Gymnastics. Miss Ryder, Miss Eddy.
The Dance, continuing the fall and winter courses and new sections. Mrs Myers, Miss Horning" (111).


See the other posts in the Education of Sylvia Plath series: 1951-1952; 1952-1953; 1954; and 1954-1955.

All links accessed 19 June 2017, 31 July, and 7 December 2017.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

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