Elizabeth A. Nichols Papers 1989-1990
Scope and Contents of the Collection
For her senior thesis "Paradise Lost and Regained: Experiences of Refugee Professors at Smith College" Elizabeth A. Nichols attempted to investigate the academic and personal experiences of seventeen European academics who taught at Smith College in the 1930s and 1940s. Her thesis was awarded high honors. Most of these individuals had fled Germany and other parts of Europe in order to escape oppression by the German National Socialist regime. The research materials in this collection include information culled from the Smith College Archives and other sources on several of the professors. It also includes Nichols's detailed notes on the papers of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars located in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library. The heart of the collection consists of responses to a query letter sent by Nichols to more than fifty Smith alumnae whom she hoped would have recollections of the professors in question. She appears to have chosen her correspondents based (at least in part) on their membership in the German Club or residence in the German House while at Smith College. Those alumnae who were able to reply substantively provided thoughtful reflections about the personalities and teaching styles of (some of the) teachers in question. Certain letters also describe in some detail the tensions between Nazi sympathizers and opponents that developed at the German House, and on campus, in the 1930s.
A list of the professors in Nichols's query is below. The weight of alumnae recollections centers on three of these: the historian Hans Kohn (1891-1971), who taught at Smith from 1933 to 1949 and was immensely popular with students; German literature professor Martin Sommerfeld (1894-1939), who taught at Smith from 1936 to 1939; and Matthias Schmitz (1899-?), who was not a refugee at all but (apparently) a member of the Nazi Party. The flamboyant Schmitz taught at Smith from 1934-1939 and students had wildly differing opinions of him. This collection contains both published and unpublished material regarding Schmitz.
The collection also contains published articles on the refugee scholar experience in the U.S. and one set of notes from an oral interview. There was presumably more evidence from oral interviews that did not survive.
The collection contains a copy of Nichols's query letter and two faculty evaluations of the thesis by Dan Horowitz and Hans Vaget, but does not contain the thesis itself. At this writing, the Smith College Library also did not possess a copy of the thesis.