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115 William Allan Neilson

Page history last edited by Kelly McCarthy 9 years, 10 months ago

March 28, 1869 - February 12, 1946



Personal Data 

Born: March 28, 1869 Doune, Perthshire, Scotland

Died:  February 12, 1946 Northampton, MA

Citizenship: emigrated to Canada in 1891 and then to the United States in 1895, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1905

Married: Elisabeth Muser in Offenburg, Germany, June 25, 1906

Children: two daughters, Margaret and Caroline, and a son, Allan, who died of rheumatic fever at the age of 17



1891 - M.A. in Philosophy  University of Edinburgh, Scotland 

1898 - Ph.D. in English  Harvard University   



1942               Board of Overseers, Harvard University

1941               Presided over the International Student Service Summer Student Leadership Institute at Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada

1940-1945     Chair, Executive Committee, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace

1940-1941     Board of Directors, National Refugee Service

1930-1946     Board of Directors, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

1926-1946     Advisory Council, the Open Road, Inc.

1924-1945     Editorial Board, G.C. Merriam and Company

1917-1939     President of Smith College

1914-1915     Exchange Professor, University of Paris

1906-1917     Professor of English, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

1904-1906     Professor of English, Columbia University, New York, NY

1901-1904     Instructor of English, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

1898-1901     Associate Professor of English Literature, Bryn Mawr College

1891-1895     Resident English Master, Upper Canada College, Toronto, Canada


Awards and Honors

William Allan Neilson Library at Smith College named after Neilson, the College's third president, 1946

French Legion of Honor, 1935


Membership-Professional Organization

1937-1938     President, American Association for Adult Education (AAAE)

1924               President, Modern Language Association

1920-1946     Trustee, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education. Served intermittently on the College Entrance

                       Examination Board



1945  (with Cowley, W. H., Fuess, C., Stoddard, G., Hand, A., & Kuhn, T. S.)  A prĂ©cis of general education in a free society/with commentaries by William Allen Neilson . . . [et al.]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Student Council.

1944 - Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). Proceedings of the international student assemblyHeld at the American University. Washington, DC, 2-5 September 1942. London, England: Oxford University Press.

1943 - Library and public opinion. ALA Bulletin, 37, 153. 

1943 -  Future of the humanities. Harper's Magazine (10457143), 186, 388-391.

1943 - Webster's biographical dictionary. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.

1942 - Challenge to our colleges. New York Times Magazine, p. 12.

1942 - Neilson, W. A., Knott, T. A., & Carhart, P. W. (Eds.). Webster's new international dictionary of the English language. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.

1941 - The past instructs. The American Scholar, 1(3). doi:10.2307/41204581 

1941 -  Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). We escaped : Twelve personal narratives of the flight to America. New York, NY: Macmillan.

1941 - America's dilemma. Northampton, England: The Hampshire Bookshop.

1940 - Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). Webster's new international dictionary of the English language. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.

1940 - (with Agar, H., Aydelotte, F., Borgese, G.). The city of man: A declaration on world democracy, Issued by Herbert Agar, Frank Aydelotte, G. A. Borgese (and others). New York, NY: Viking Press.

1940 - Intellectual honesty, and other addresses, being mainly chapel talks at Smith College. Litchfield, CT: Prospect Press.

1939 -  Editorial. The American Scholar, 1(3). doi:10.2307/41206746

1939 - Education can't be better than the teachers. Survey Graphic, 28, 610-613.

1939 - Minorities in our midst. Survey Graphic, 28, 98-103.

1938 - Process of reading. Journal of Adult Education, 10, 229-234.

1937 - (with Hutchins, R.) What is the job of our colleges? Progressive Education, 14, 311-313.

1937 - A mine for the historian and philogist. The Journal of Higher Education, (4), 229. doi:10.2307/1974882

1937 - Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). Webster's new international dictionary of the English language. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam.

1937 - Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). Roads to knowledge. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

1936 - The American scholar today. The American Scholar, (2), 149. doi:10.2307/41204198

1932 - Are American colleges wasteful? Scribner's Magazine, 91, 326-329.

1932 - Roads to knowledge. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

1931 - Town and gown today. Journal of Adult Education, 3, 133-137. 

1930 - Resignation from Smith College of Dr Harry Elmer Barnes. School & Society, 31, 591.

1930 - Junior year in France. Progressive Education, 776-78.

1930 - Is official censorship of books desirable? Congressional Digest, 9(2), 56-57.

1930 - The theory of censorship. Atlantic Monthly145, 13-16.

1929 - Shall we join the ladies? School & Society, 29, 469-474.

1929 - Should women be educated like men? Forum 81, 102-105.

1929 - (with Munro, W. B.)  Women's colleges reply. Atlantic Monthly, 143, 111-115.

1926 - Charles W. Eliot : The man and his beliefs. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers. 

1926 - President Eliot. Saturday Review of Literature, 3187-189.

1925 - Do women learn faster? Colliers, 7625.

1925 - Overcrowding in women's colleges. Nation, 120(3123), 539.

1924 - President Eliot at ninety. Nation, 118, 313.

1924 - From the point of view of a professor turned president. PMLA: Publications Of The Modern Language Association Of America, 39(Supplement), xlii-liii.

1917 - Curse of memory. English Journal, 680-87.

1913 - Neilson, W. A. (Ed.). Lectures on Dr. Eliot's five-foot shelf of books. New York, NY: P.F. Collier.



Professional Interest Areas

Scholar of William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Elizabethan theater


Promotion of civil rights as demonstrated by his term on the Board of Directors of the NAACP from 1930 to 1946.  

Advocate for European refugees, especially but not exclusively scholars from the dictatorships of Germany, Russia and Italy in the years after the First World War until his death in 1946.  

Advocate for the improvement of women's education 



Major Contributions to Adult Education

As president of Smith College, one of the largest women's colleges of the day, he made strategic educational changes to improve the delivery of higher education to women:

  • increased the number of faculty while maintaining a student population of 2000
  • oversaw the purchase and building of new residence halls so all students could live on campus
  • added interdepartmental majors in science, landscape architecture, and theatre, which were formally regarded as men's majors
  • added a coeducational graduate program, The School for Social Work
  • initiated a junior year study abroad program in 1924 



Additional Resources


From the San Francisco Public Schools Bulletin, Aug. 1937-June 1938, Vol. 9, p. 159. Neilson spoke at a convention of the American Association for Adult Education and warned of the negative impact of jargon within the medical profession, and the new sciences of sociology and pedagogy who are following suit. 


Photo Gallery








Thorp, M. F. (1956). Neilson of Smith. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.




Interesting Facts

His third area of interest was promoting civil rights as demonstrated by his term on the Board of Directors of the NAACP from 1930 to






Neilson, William Allan. (1996). World Authors 1900-1950,


President William Allan Neilson. (2014). In Smithipedia. Retrieved from http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/smithipedia/administration/president-william-allan-neilson/


Rose, P. I. (n.d.). William Allan Neilson: "A king o'men [and women, too!], for a' that". Retrieved from http://www.smith.edu/libraries/sites/default/files/proselecture.pdf


San Francisco public schools bulletin (Aug. 1937-June 1938). (2014). In Movaco. Retrieved from http://www.mocavo.com/San-Francisco-Public-Schools-Bulletin-Aug-1937-June-1938-Volume-9/594751/159


Smith history: Smith College presidents. (n.d.) In Smith College. Retrieved from http://www.smith.edu/about-smith/smith-tradition/presidents


William Allan Neilson. (2014, June 25). In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Allan_Neilson


William Allan Neilson personal papers, 1852-1946. (2005, October 27). In Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. Retrieved from http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/smitharchives/manosca120.html



Comments (1)

Cynthia Edwards said

at 12:19 pm on Jul 9, 2014

William A. Neilson is a new addition to the adult education contributors, so all information here has been added by me.

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