Biographical / Historical
Courtney C. Smith was born on December 20, 1916, in Winterset, Iowa. He went to public schools in Des Moines and then attended Harvard University in 1934 where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated in 1938 and was named a Rhodes Scholar, travelling to Merton College in Oxford University in 1938-1939. Upon his return, he married Elizabeth Proctor and was named a Teaching Fellow and English Tutor at Harvard University, a position he held until 1943. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1944. From 1946 to 1953 he was an Instructor, Assistant Professor, and Bicentennial Preceptor in English at Princeton University. In 1953 he was named the American Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships, directly succeeding former Swarthmore President Aydelotte, and also was named ninth President of Swarthmore College. While at Swarthmore, he joined the Society of Friends.
Under the presidency of Smith, Swarthmore gained the reputation as one of the finest small liberal arts colleges in the country. While the College began its ride to the top primarily under Swain, Aydelotte, and Nason, it was under Smith's presidency that the college gained it full reputation and flourished. Smith set in motion a thorough re-evaluation of the College and increased the financial stability of the school. He appealed to the Ford Foundation as well as alumni to raise faculty salaries. In 1955 he initiated a Faculty Research Fund which provided funding for professors to pursue independent research.
Smith changed the physical campus as well. Under his presidency, McCabe Library, Sharples Dining Hall, DuPont Science Building, and Worth Health Center were built, and the old library became Tarble Social Center. Another evaluation of the College was initiated in the fall of 1966 to study all aspects of the college. Most academic changes were accepted, including reducing the number of Honors seminars, and attempting to incorporate the library as part of the academics of the college.
In June of 1968 Smith announced his resignation effective the fall of 1969 in order to head the Markle Foundation. Before he left, however, the campus was tense with the social concerns and anti-war sentiments that typified the 1960s. The social rules imposed by the Board were one source of controversy. Another major concern was negotiations with the Swarthmore African-American Student Society (SASS) to increase the presence of black students on campus. On January 9, 1969, members of SASS occupied the Admissions Office and demanded that the College take a more active role in the admission and recruitment of African-American students, including those seen as high-risk students. On January 16, President Smith died of a heart attack in his office. He was 52 years old. At the time, some blamed the actions of SASS for precipitating the President's death, while others saw it as a sad coincidence.