Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

GRAPHIC BY CAS SWEENEY ’19 | ASSOCIATE EDITOR | DATA COLLECTED BY SARAH FELDMAN ’18 | CONTRIBUTING WRITER  Mountain Day began in 1877, and today the campus still anxiously awaits for this celebratory occasion.


Mountain Day began in 1877, and today the campus still anxiously awaits for this celebratory occasion.

Sarah Feldman

The mystery of Mountain Day brings out the detectives, deducers and superstitious in Smith students. The question of when the fateful day will be hangs in the air precariously alongside the changing leaves.

There are well accepted parameters to work with: Mountain Day is less likely to be on Fridays and Mondays; it has to be a nice day; the President shouldn’t have a busy schedule or important events; and it must come before fall break. Historically, though, some of these parameters are hard to pin down. These “rules” for Mountain Day are not always followed, as more often than not, they are broken.

Mountain Day was a tradition started in 1877 by President Seelye. The Mountain Days of yesteryear were full of picnics, carriage rides and ferries across the Connecticut River. From the late 1800s to 1923, Mountain Day was not a surprise. It always occurred on the second Thursday of October. After a series of rainy Thursdays, Mountain Day became a surprise determined by the President.

Mountain Day has been cancelled twice in the College’s history. Mountain Day was first canceled due to public health concerns about a pervasive epidemic in 1916, which pushed the start date of the college back into October. Similarly, in 1938, a hurricane unexpectedly slammed New England’s coast, leading to a year of disappointed Smith students. A stray dog ran across the stage when the Dean of the College broke the bad news that year, softening the blow only slightly.

While Mountain Day has changed throughout the years, Mountain Day activities have remained the same. Students are encouraged to climb mountains, such as Mount Tom, ride bicycles, pick apples and enjoy the beautiful fall in New England. Rules preventing Smith students from visiting traditionally men’s schools restricted the mobility of Smith students in the early part of the 20th century. These rules were loosened in the 1950s, reinstated in the 60s and then disposed of once and for all in the 70s. Inevitably, some students will spend the day in the library or catching up on sleep. President Mendenhall was known to go through the library and kick students out into the bright sunshine.

In modern memory, the most common day for Mountain Day to fall on has been October 10th, being christened as Mountain Day ten times over the past 94 years and making up a decades worth of Mountain Days over a little under a century. Given the available dates on Mountain Day, there are only 49 recorded dates from the last hundred years or so. Filling in the missing dates could even out the distribution, or it could widen the gap in days.

Some of these parameters seem to hold true with the given Mountain Day parameters. September is a pretty uncommon month for Mountain Day, and most Mountain Days seem to cluster towards the middle of October.

Modern Presidency Graph

Prior to 1923, Mountain Day was a set date. Looking beyond 1923, Mountain Day was directly tied to the President, contingent on and constrained by the President’s will and whim. Below is a graph detailing the weekday distribution of Mountain Day by President. Despite popular speculation that Mountain Day never falls on a Monday or Friday, a Monday Mountain Day has been just as common historically as a Tuesday Mountain Day. President Christ, who presided over Smith in the early 2000s, seemed to have a particular affinity for taking off for the mountains on Monday.

So far, President McCartney seems to prefer taking Wednesday off. This puts her in good company with other presidents, like President Conway, Smith’s first female president. Half of President Conway’s Mountain Days were declared on a Wednesday. Given the fact that President McCartney has had only five Mountain Days, only time will tell if she develops an affinity for a certain day of the week, like the presidents before her.

What’s Missing

Within the past century, a little over half of the Mountain Day dates aren’t recorded in the College archives. Preserving and piecing together these missing dates is essential to remembering the Mountain Days of yore, while also adding predictive and descriptive power to any Smith student willing to step up and crack the Mountain Day code through numbers and history.

These are the years that do not yet have a definitive date in the archives, drawn in mountain form.

Mountain Day Photos

Visualizing Mountain Day through numbers is important in understanding the known and unknown. Looking through the archives — regardless of whether there were precise numbers attached to any given day — captures the enjoyment of a day off on a beautiful New England day. Smith students have always been featured climbing mountains, lounging on a soft bed of green grass, bike riding through the Valley and picking apples. Some of things have certainly changed though. No longer do students have to rely on a surrey or cart to get around the valley (that is unless there is no car to be found).

One thing that connects Smith students throughout the ages is the hunger for knowledge — particularly when it concerns a day off from classes. In virtue, knowledge: the saying that guides Smith’s education through the decades will guide the search for the lost Mountain Days in the aim of building a more complete picture of Smith and a better way of predicting the future Mountain Days to come.

Sophian Smith