Grace Coburn Smith

Grace Coburn Smith was the younger sister of Louise Helen Coburn, the second woman graduate of Colby.  She was born in Skowhegan, Maine and entered Colby in 1889.  Grace was very active in the Sigma Kappa Sorority at Colby.  Until her sophomore year in college, there were few girls who entered Colby and thus all were involved in the sorority.  The limit of twenty five members in the sorority had never been reached.  But between the years of 1890-1896, so many girls came to the college, that the member capacity was full.  Grace was the most active sorority member in trying to increase the member occupancy.  She is reported to have said with tears in her eyes, “I could never enjoy a Sigma Kappa meeting if I knew that upstairs were some poor little lonely freshman girls who were left out.”  She succeeded in her cause with the result that Beta and Gamma chapters were added to Alpha at Colby. Grace would go on later in her life to serve as the Grand President of Sigma Kappa from 1908-1912 where she was deemed invaluable by members of the sorority across the country.  During her term as Grand President she helped establish the Zeta chapter and revised the sorority constitution.

She was graduated in 1893 with English oration honors from Colby. After graduating from Colby she spent nearly three years abroad with her mother and older sister visiting Greece and Egypt in addition to the more usual routes of travel.  She spent some time studying French, German, and music in Paris and Heidelberg.   When she arrived home from her great adventures abroad, she almost immediately fell into the arms of a young man with a recent Ph.D. degree in geology from John Hopkins University who was a classmate of hers through elementary school and Colby.  The following year, Dr. George Otis Smith and Grace were united in a marriage that would go on to bring happiness and love for the rest of both of their lives.  Dr. Smith was the director of the United States Geological survey and became the chairman of the Federal Power Commission.  With her marriage began an alternation of winters in Washington, D.C., and summers in Skowhegan, Maine.  In 1900, Grace graduated with an A.B. from George Washington University. Grace and Dr. Smith had five beautiful children together: Charles, Joseph, Ervena Goodale, Helen, and Elizabeth.  Grace was known as being the “mother at the center of every ambition and achievement” of all of her children.

Grace loved to write poetry and had many beautiful poems published in newspapers across the country.  She often wrote poems in memorial of “the mothers of the boys who will not return” from WWI.  She also wrote blessings and prayers. She published a small prayer book called An Easter Meditation that was written in 1928 and printed in 1931. She was a devoted alumna of Colby College and any project which involved the best interests of the Colby girls was sure of her support.  When the cornerstone of the alumnae building was laid in 1928 and the building dedicated the following year, she wrote a beautiful response service for both occasions.

Grace was extremely active in both of the communities she lived in.  In Washington D.C., she was a member of the Twentieth Century Club, the American Association of University Women, the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, and various organizations of the Calvary Baptist church. She was the president of the Dupont chapter of the Young Women’s Christian association. She also spent some time on Capitol Hill.  She assisted in the dining room of the White House at a tea given by Mrs. Hoover. And she helped arrange for convention delegates to meet President Roosevelt and even introduced them to him at a special reception at the White House.  In Skowhegan, Maine she was a member of Bethany Baptist church, the Helen Coburn Missionary society, teacher of the Philathea class, a member of the Town Improvement society, the W.C.T.U., the D.A.R. and the Maine Writers’ Research club.  In 1911 she carried on an aggressive temperance campaign from her home in Skowhegan, sending out thousands of pamphlets, and arranging for many temperance addresses.

Grace was known for her warm hospitality and vibrant personality. “Hospitality was a keynote of her life; gay family parties, missionaries from far and near, groups from church or town, or the more formal society of official Washington or even a party of the Sigma Kappa in national convention assembled have all found her doors wide open.”  She was known for telling captivating stories about her travels around the world from Europe and Egypt, to her tour of the Western United States and the Grand Canyon, geological trips to Mexico, Norway, and Sweden, and her viewing of the Passion Play of Oberamergau.  She also was a spectacular listener and was always there for anyone and everyone in times of need and sorrow.  Her Skowhegan pastor wrote, “The life and daily walk of Grace Coburn Smith was the perfected flower of faith.”  And from the endless accounts of her kindness, vibrant personality, unusual hospitality, and wonderful sense of humor, Grace Coburn Smith was certainly among Colby’s most beloved alumnae in more ways than one.