One of the more curious aspects of Washington College has been its relative ambivalence about its founder, the Rev. William Smith. Compared to the reputation of the College’s namesake saint, Smith’s biography as being a loyal Tory, legendary foe of Benjamin Franklin, and one of the better known alcoholics in Colonial America, is not the kind of thing a school is eager to immediately promote to high school seniors.
And so, not surprisingly, over the years, William Smith’s role with the founding of Washington College has increasingly become more obscure as George Washington’s relatively modest relationship as patron and board member for the school has become excessively hyped to win over prospective students and their history-reading parents.
While historians will need to determine Washington’s lasting impact on the school, professor emeritus Colin Dickson thinks WC might be missing the boat by not publicly acknowledging Smith’s growing reputation of having a decisive and long lasting impact on American education.
This new respect for Smith might be partly due to the release of his papers to researchers by the University of Pennsylvania just a few years ago. Previously stored away in private hands for more then a century, Penn recently purchased over 350 letters covering Smith’s arrival to Philadelphia in 1753 until his death in 1803.
The Spy sat down with Professor Dickson a few weeks ago to discuss William Smith and understand more why we should pay our due respect.