Thomas Corwin Mendenhall Personal Papers
Thomas Corwin Mendenhall was born on June 14, 1910 in Chicago, IL to Charles E. Mendenhall, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin and Dorothy Reed Mendenhall, an 1895 graduate of Smith College and noted pediatrician.
Mendenhall received B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale in 1932 and 1938, respectively, and held B.S. and B.Litt. degrees from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mendenhall was a history professor at Yale University and coach of the crew team (1937-1959). Six years later he began taking on administrative duties, first as assistant to the provost at Yale University (1943-1950), then as the master of Berkeley College, an undergraduate residential college at Yale University (1950-1959). During his time at Yale, Mendenhall assisted in the establishment of the Directed Studies Program, and, with other colleagues in the history department, initiated the "problem method" of teaching history, which emphasizes the analysis of source materials as the foundation for the development of historical generalizations.
Mendenhall was the sixth president of Smith College. He accepted the position in 1958, and began work in the fall of 1959. He remained at the college for 16 years, retiring in the spring of 1975. He guided Smith through a succession of changes that significantly altered the college's social environment and curriculum. Smith participation in intercollegiate athletic competition greatly increased on his watch. In addition, Mendenhall's interest in increasing the collaboration among Smith and its four neighboring institutions -- Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts -- led to the founding of Five Colleges, Inc., of which he was president from its beginning until his retirement. Beyond the Smith community, Mendenhall served on the boards of a number of secondary schools and was actively involved with the Council for Basic Education. In 1962, Mendenhall helped found Catalyst, the national, nonprofit organization that seeks to advance women in business and the professions, and he later chaired its board.
Mendenhall retired to Martha's Vineyard in 1975 with his wife Cornelia Baker Mendenhall. He married Cornelia Baker in 1938. Cornelia was born in Englewood, NJ and graduated from Vassar with a degree in biology in 1935. She was a very caring and nurturing wife. During his retirement Mendenhall was active in the community life of Martha's Vineyard, serving on the boards of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital and several conservation groups and regularly sailing his Menemsha 24 sloop on Vineyard Sound. He researched and wrote books on the history of rowing in America (1975-1993). Crew and boating were two of Mendenhall's lifetime passions. He found rowing to be a great source of relief throughout his life. He captained the Balliol College crew while at Oxford, coached the Berkeley College crew while teaching at Yale, served as an informal coach for college rowers at Smith and wrote three books on the subject, including A Short History of American Rowing (1980).
Mendenhall was loved by many, and his death on July 18, 1998 at the age of 88 on Martha's Vineyard was mourned by all those whose lives he had touched. Surviving him are his two daughters Bethany Mendenhall and Cornelia Small, and two grandchildren. Cornelia Mendenhall died on October 17, 2002 on Martha's Vineyard.