Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946

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Educator, editor and author. President of Smith College, 1917-1939; editor of Webster's New International Dictionary 2nd edition; author of "Essentials of poetry" and "Facts about Shakespeare."

From the description of Letters of W.A. Neilson, 1907-1917. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 76968306

Smith College President (3rd), 1917-1939. Ph. D., Harvard, 1898. Prof. of English at Bryn Mawr, Harvard, the Sorbonne and Columbia.

From the description of William Allan Neilson personal papers, 1852-1946. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 51171634

Neilson graduated from Harvard in 1896 and taught English at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of William Allan Neilson, 1912. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973143

Smith College President (3rd), 1917-1939.

From the description of Office of the President William Allan Neilson files, 1917-1939. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 51231676

William Allan Neilson was born March 28, 1869, in Doune, Pertshire Scotland. He attended Edinburgh University where he studied philosophy, graduating with honors in 1891. In order to join his brother who emigrated to Canada, Neilson crossed the Atlantic and began teaching in Upper Canada College in Toronto which was a boarding school for young boys.

Deciding that he would prefer to be a scholar than a school master, Neilson went on to Harvard Graduate School in Cambridge, MA where he received his Ph.D. in English in 1898. Upon receiving his Ph.D., Neilson accepted a position as an Associate in English Literature at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, PA. Neilson taught at many other fine institutions before settling into the work of an administrator. Harvard, Radcliffe, the Sorbonne, Columbia, Barnard, and the University of California all made use of Neilson's talents at one time or another.

It was during his years as a professor that Neilson distinguished himself as the sort of scholar that an academic institution would wish to guide it. Before coming to Smith, Neilson made a name for himself both as a professor devoted to his students' learning (he was the only instructor of Helen Keller's who learned the manual sign language she used for communication) but also as a writer and an editor. Among his writings were Essentials of Poetry (1912)and The Facts about Shakespeare (1913). He also was the editor of Milton's Minor Poems (1899) and Shakespeare's Complete Works (1906).

In 1917, Neilson was offered the Presidency of Smith College. He accepted on the conditions that he would not be obligated to raise money, and that a president's house would be built, with which the trustees complied.

Perhaps one of the best assets that Neilson brought to Smith was his quick wit that endeared him to student, staff, faculty, and alumnae alike. At Neilson's final commencement in 1939 Cynthia Walsh recalled one particular instance:

The seniors will especially recall that on May Day when they went to serenade him, his new collie puppy began to bark, not realizing what sweet voices were vying with the birds so early in the morning. When the president stepped out he said, "My dog thinks you're sheep," and the volleys of laughter which greeted this remark quite drowned out the rest: "-but I think you're lambs!"

Neilson's accomplishments at Smith were many. When Neilson noticed that a majority of Smith students lived off campus he set about the task of purchasing and building new residences so that all Smith students would live on campus. After building the Great Quadrangle, purchasing Chapin House, Talbot House, Sessions House, and many others his goal was completed. During Neilson's 22-year term as president, the campus also saw the additions of Sage Music Hall, Scott Gymnasium, Tryon Art Gallery, the Alumnae House, the Infirmary, and the President's house.

Neilson also established the Junior Year in France, Junior Year in Italy, and the Junior Year in Spain Programs. Special Honors, the Smith College Day School, and the School for Social Work were additions that Neilson made to the college.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Neilson continued writing and editing while looking after the well being of 2,000 students. In 1920 he wrote History of English Literature and in 1922 he edited Roads to Knowledge. He also was the editor-in-chief of Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1934.

From the guide to the Office of President William Allan Neilson Files RG 32., 1917-1939, (Smith College Archives)

  • 1869: Born in Doune, Perthshire, Scotland, March 28
  • 1882 - 1886 : Attended Montrose Academy
  • 1886 - 1891 : Studied at the University of Edinburgh, received M.A.
  • 1891: Immigrated with family to Canada
  • 1891 - 1895 : Resident English Master, Upper Canada College, Toronto
  • 1895 - 1898 : Graduate work in English, Harvard University, M.A. (1897), Ph.D. (1898)
  • 1898 - 1901 : Associate Professor of English Literature, Bryn Mawr College
  • 1901 - 1904 : Instructor of English, Harvard University
  • 1904 - 1906 : Professor of English, Columbia University
  • 1905: Became American citizen
  • 1906 - 1917 : Professor of English, Harvard University
  • 1906: Married Elisabeth Muser in Offenburg, Germany, June 25
  • 1914 - 1915 : Exchange Professor, University of Paris
  • 1917 - 1939 : President of Smith College
  • 1920 - 1946 : Trustee, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education Served intermittently on the College Entrance Examination Board
  • 1921: Initiated Special Honors program at Smith College
  • 1924: President, Modern Language Association
  • 1924 - 1945 : Editorial Board of G.C. Merriam and Company
  • 1925: Started Junior Year Abroad program at Smith College
  • 1926 - 1946 : Advisory Council, the Open Road, Inc.
  • 1930 - 1946 : Board of Directors, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • 1940 - 1941 : Board of Directors, National Refugee Service
  • 1940 - 1945 : Chair, Executive Committee, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace
  • 1941: Presided over the International Student Service Summer Student Leadership Institute at Campobello, New Brunswick
  • 1942: Board of Overseers, Harvard University
  • 1943: Chair,
  • 1946: Died in Northampton, Massachusetts, February 13

From the guide to the William Allan Neilson Personal Papers RG 32 ., 1852-1946, (Smith College Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Harris, Norman Wait, 1846-1916. Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation lectures records, 1906-1972. Northwestern University
creatorOf Davis, Herbert John, 1893-1967. Office of the President Herbert John Davis files, 1940-1949. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf Gardiner, H. Norman (Harry Norman), 1855-1927. Harry Norman Gardiner papers, 1875-1927. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf William Allan Neilson Personal Papers RG 32 ., 1852-1946 Smith College Archives
referencedIn Hart, Walter Morris, 1872-1964. Student notes in English and Comparative Literature, 1900-1903. Harvard University, Archives
referencedIn Comstock, Ada Louise. Papers, 1818-1982 (inclusive), 1887-1982 (bulk). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Morrow, Elizabeth, 1873-1955. Elizabeth Cutter Morrow papers, 1939-1940. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf Office of President William Allan Neilson Files RG 32., 1917-1939 Smith College Archives
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. In memoriam George W. Cable, 1844-1925, by William Allan Neilson ... Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library
referencedIn Mary C. Jarrett Papers MS 83., 1900 - 1961, 1900-1961 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Witter Bynner papers, 1829-1965. Houghton Library.
creatorOf American Russian Institute. Correspondence with Theodore Dreiser, 1931-1942. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Office of the Acting President Elizabeth Morrow Files RG 32., 1939-1940 Smith College Archives
creatorOf Clark, Annetta Isabel, 1881-1961. Annetta Isabel Clark papers, 1907-1952. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Comstock, Ada Louise. Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1923-1943 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Palmer, George Herbert, 1842-1933. [Letter, 1912] Jan. 18, 11 Quincy Street, Cambridge [to] Dr. Neilson / G. H. Palmer. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Norman Wait Harris Lecture Series, 1906-2007 Northwestern University Archives
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Mark Anthony De Wolfe Howe additional papers, 1880-1959. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Borgese, Giuseppe Antonio, 1882-. Letters, 1940-1941, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Letters received by the Norton family, 1830-1920. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Mina Kirstein Curtiss Papers MS 250., 1913-2005 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Additional papers of the Howe-Richards family, 1843-1957. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Smith College. Audio visual collection, long playing records of Smith College, 1909-1982. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn George Sarton additional papers, 1901-1956. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934. Papers of LeBaron Russell Briggs, 1901-1933. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. Office of the President William Allan Neilson files, 1917-1939. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Mary van Kleeck Papers MS 165., 1883-1972 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn William Roscoe Thayer papers, 1762-1927 (inclusive), 1872-1921 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Burns, Robert, 1759-1796. The jolly beggars : a cantata : manuscript, [1786]. Princeton University Library
referencedIn Curtiss, Mina Kirstein, 1896-1985. Papers, 1913-1986 (bulk 1940-1985). Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Wendell family papers, ca. 1620-1921. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. Letters of W.A. Neilson, 1907-1917. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Bliss, Anna Catherine, ca. 1849-1941. Anna Catherine Bliss collection, 1842-1940. Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. Correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, 1940-1941. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Littledale, Clara Savage, 1891-1956. Papers, 1903-1982 (inclusive), 1903-1956 (bulk). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company correspondence and records, 1832-1944. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. William Allan Neilson personal papers, 1852-1946. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Henrietta C. Bartlett papers, 1471-1961 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ford, Harriet Bliss, 1876-1964. Papers, 1899-1953. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Jarrett, Mary C. (Mary Cromwell). Papers 1900-1961. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Trent, William Peterfield, 1862-1939. Papers, ca.1800-1941. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Correspondence and compositions, 1870-1963. Houghton Library.
referencedIn American Scholar records, 1926-2006 (bulk 1944-2005). Library of Congress
referencedIn Office of the President Herbert John Davis Files RG 32., 1939-1951 Smith College Archives
creatorOf Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888. Collection of books from the library of William Faulkner. Part II. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn American Scholar, Records, 1926-2006, (bulk 1944-2005) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Neilson, William Allan, 1869-1946. Papers of William Allan Neilson, 1912. Harvard University, Archives
referencedIn Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883-. Mary van Kleeck Papers, 1849-1998. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Harriet Bliss Ford Papers MS 59., 1899-1953 Sophia Smith Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Russian Institute. corporateBody
correspondedWith American Scholar corporateBody
associatedWith Bartlett, Henrietta C. (Henrietta Collins), 1873-1963 person
associatedWith Bliss, Anna Catherine, ca. 1849-1941. person
associatedWith Briggs, Le Baron Russell, 1855-1934. person
associatedWith Burns, Robert, 1759-1796. person
correspondedWith Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968 person
associatedWith Cable, George Washington, 1844-1925. person
associatedWith Chandler, F. W. (Francis Ward), 1844-1926. person
associatedWith Clark, Annetta Isabel, 1881-1961. person
associatedWith Comstock, Ada Louise. person
correspondedWith Curtiss, Mina Kirstein, 1896- person
associatedWith Davis, Herbert John, 1893-1967 person
correspondedWith Ford, Harriet Bliss, 1876-1964 person
associatedWith Gardiner, H. Norman (Harry Norman), 1855-1927. person
associatedWith Harris, Norman Wait, 1846-1916. person
associatedWith Hart, Walter Morris, 1872-1964. person
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
correspondedWith Houghton Mifflin Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Howe family. family
correspondedWith Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960 person
associatedWith Jarrett, Mary C. (Mary Cromwell) person
associatedWith Littledale, Clara Savage, 1891-1956. person
associatedWith Morrow, Elizabeth, 1873-1955 person
associatedWith Neilson, Elisabeth Muser, 1882-1968 person
correspondedWith Norton family, recipient. family
associatedWith Palmer, George Herbert, 1842-1933. person
correspondedWith Pease, Arthur Stanley, 1881- person
associatedWith Radcliffe College corporateBody
associatedWith Rees, Byron J. (Byron Johnson), 1877-1920, person
correspondedWith Sarton, George, 1884-1956 person
associatedWith Smith College corporateBody
associatedWith Smith College. Office of President. corporateBody
associatedWith Smith College. Office of President. corporateBody
associatedWith Smith College. Office of President. corporateBody
correspondedWith Thayer, William Roscoe, 1859-1923 person
associatedWith Thorp, Margaret Farrand, 1891- person
associatedWith Trent, William Peterfield, 1862-1939. person
correspondedWith van Kleeck, Mary person
correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
correspondedWith Wendell family. family
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Louisiana writers
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1869-03-28

Death 1946

Information

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