Agnes Scott College

Clara Eliza Smith

Clara Smith

May 20, 1865 - May 12, 1943

Clara Smith was born in Northford, Connecticut, the only child of Edward and Georgiana Smith. She attended Mount Holyoke Seminary and College, leaving in 1885 after having completed the "seminary course" (the seminary curriculum was phased out and the institution was renamed Mount Holyoke College in 1893). Smith also studied at the Yale School of Fine Arts. From 1889 through 1898 she worked at the State Normal School in Pennsylvania as an Instructor in fine arts. In 1902 she was granted a B.A. degree from Mount Holyoke College. She earned her Ph.D. in 1904 from Yale with a thesis on "Representation of an Arbitrary Function by means of Bessel's Functions." Two years later she published a paper about Bessel functions in the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society [Abstract]. Smith began teaching at Wellesley College as a substitute in mathematics and was hired as a full-time instructor in 1908. She was promoted to Helen Day Gould Professor of Mathematics in 1924. Smith taught at Wellesley College until 1934, interrupted only when she spent a year of study at Gottingen University (1910-11), a year as an exchange professor at Goucher College (1917-18), and a year spent traveling around the world (1926-27). In an appreciation written at the time of Smith's retirement, Lennie Copeland wrote

"Miss Smith's special contribution to the mathematics department has been the building up of the course in Functions of a Complex Variable, a subject in which her own researches have been centered. Not only has this course helped prepare many students to apply its principles to practical scientific work, but it has inspired others to continue their mathematical studies further in graduate school.

Smith served as a member of the board of trustees of the Mathematical Association of America from 1923-25, and in 1927 was elected a Vice-President of the association. She co-authored the textbooks Selected Topics in Higher Algebra and A First Course in Higher Algebra with Helen Merrill.


  1. Smith Family Papers, 1862-1954, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.
  2. Lennie Phoebe Copeland. "Clara Eliza Smith—An Appreciation," The Wellesley Magazine, June 1934.
  3. Obituary, New York Times, June 14, 1943.
  4. Louise Ginstein. "Some 'Forgotten' Women of Mathematics: A Who was Who," Philosophia Mathematica 13/14 (1976/77), 73-78.
  5. Author Profile at zbMath

Photo Credit: Photograph is used courtesy of the Wellesley College Archives