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In Memoriam: Mills College remembers former president Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith, a former president of Mills College whose avid support of higher education made her one of the top 50 most influential leaders in the field in a 1975 poll, died Friday, Aug. 27. At age 87, Smith passed away in her family’s hometown of Alamo, Calif.

Former president Virginia Smith bids farewell to Mills College students, faculty and staff after her decision to return to and be a member of the Board of Trustees. (Courtesy of The Mills college weekly, May 3, 1991)

Smith’s year-long tenure as acting president in 1990, beginning her term just after the famous campus strike -during which students sported shirts that read “Better Dead Than Coed” in protest of the Board of Trustees attempt to make Mills coeducational – Smith led a campus with a passion for women’s issues. President Holmgren, then Janet McKay, took over the presidency shortly thereafter.

According to a memorandum by Ramon S. Torrecilha, the current acting head of the College, Smith asserted “the environment of a women’s college provides a special freedom of development. Anyone who has had any contact with women’s education knows it’s a different process. It would be great if, at some point, every woman could have some of this, sense the freedom of it.”

Current President Janet L. Holmgren attributes much of Mills’ and other colleges’ advancements during the time to Smith’s dedication to university schooling.

“She was a highly regarded administrator and public policy scholar whose innovative ideas and strategies have greatly improved opportunity and excellence in higher education,” Homgren said in Torrecilha’s memorandum.

In rememberance of Virginia Smith, The Campanil staff have selected an article from the May 3, 1991 issue of The Mills College Weekly. In it, Smith bids farewell to fellow students, faculty and staff alike before retiring from her presidency and taking on a position with the Board of Trustees.

Through the article, The Campanil staff intends to allow former president Smith to say goodbye, one last time, in her own words.