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Identifier: R-MC 60

Mabel Smith Douglass Papers


  • Majority of material found within 1877-1963; , 1912-1933

Scope and Content Note

The materials in this collection date from 1887 to 1963, with the bulk of materials dating between 1912 and 1933. The papers represented in this collection were received from her successor, Albert E. Meder. The collection consists of four series: General Records, Publications, Photographs, and Oversize. The collection consists of materials created by and relating to the life of Mabel Smith Douglass; her early life from birth to college, her professional career with the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s clubs, her affiliation with Douglass College, and materials collected after her disappearance and death, including correspondence to her daughter, Edith Shipman Douglass.

This collection does not contain administrative records pertaining to the New Jersey College for Women/Douglass College.

The General Records series consists primarily of letters written by and to Douglass and newspaper clippings regarding numerous women’s colleges across the nation and later, contains letters, publications, and awards relating to the New Jersey College for Women. This series provides insight towards the development of what was to become Douglass College.

The Publications series contains mostly bound publications from colleges, women’s clubs, annual reports, and state statistics. Notable publications include works from Douglass: The Early History of New Jersey College for Women; Personal Recollections, reprinted from the 1929 New Jersey College for Women yearbook, Quair; a typewritten manuscript entitled New Jersey College for Women (undated); and Douglass’ personal Funk & Wagnalls Desk Standard Dictionary from 1919. Additional items of note are a copy of the Inauguration of President W.H.S. Demarest, from June 20th, 1906 and “A tribute to Mabel Smith Douglass” by Rutgers University President Rev. William H.S. Demarest, D.D. in the November 1933 volume of The Alumnae Bulletin of the New Jersey College for Women.

The Photographs series contains many photographs of Mabel Smith Douglass from 1885 to 1927, including photographs of Douglass at her college graduation from Barnard, photographs with her family and other notable individuals including President Masaryk of the Czecho-Slovakian Republic and Rutgers University President Dr. William H.S. Demarest.

The Oversized series contains oversized items including a scrapbook of clippings on Douglass and New Jersey College for Women, concerning the Dean’s resignation, disappearance, and death, multiple newspapers, and a family tree.


3.5 cubic feet (5 legal manuscript boxes, 1 oversize box)

Language of Materials



The papers of Mabel Smith Douglass document the life and career of a prolific educator, who worked to gain educational equality for women in the early twentieth century. The papers consist of materials accrued during Douglass’ life as a student at Barnard College, as a member of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and as Dean of the New Jersey College for Women (what would become Douglass College of Rutgers University). The collection dates from 1877 to 1963, with the bulk of the material from the period between 1912 and 1933. The records are contained in four series: I. General Records, II. Publications, III. Photographs, and IV. Oversized.

Biographical Sketch of Mabel Smith Douglass and a Brief Organizational History of the College

Mabel Smith Douglass (née Anna Mabel Smith) was born on February 11, 1877 in Jersey City, N.J. as the elder of two daughters to James Weaver and Wilhelmine Joanne Midlige Smith. James Weaver Smith was a merchant and the descendant of Dutch settlers who had come to New Jersey in the seventeenth century. After graduating high school, Douglass attended Barnard College. After graduation in 1899, Douglass taught in New York City public schools until her marriage to William Shipman Douglass, a commission merchant, in 1903.

From 1911 to 1918 Douglass was a member of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, who lobbied for the creation of an institution of higher learning for women in New Jersey after finding resistance to the admission of women into traditionally male colleges. After securing financial supplementation from the New Jersey State Legislature and the support of the trustees of Rutgers College, the trustees passed a resolution in the spring of 1918 to establish “a Woman’s College as a department of the State University of New Jersey maintained by the trustees” (Denda et al., 2018, p. 18). The New Jersey College for Women (NJC) was formally established as an autonomous unit operating within Rutgers.

In May of 1918, Douglass was appointed Dean of the newly-founded NJC, which enrolled 54 female students the following September. Under Douglass’ leadership, enrollment rose to 1,129 by 1929.

Despite the success of NJC, the early years of the College were stressful for Dean Douglass. She ran into some difficulty during her office procuring an independent identity and adequate budget for the newly founded college. She did get along with Rutgers’ President William H.S Demarest and had many allies such as William Gourley, but disharmony between the administration of the college and the next president of Rutgers, John M. Thomas, combined with decreasing health, finally pushed Douglass to resign on July 1, 1933. Douglass disappeared in October of 1933 while boating on Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. Her body was found on September 27, 1963 in Lake Placid about 95 feet down on a ledge by skin divers, with a rope and anchor tied around her neck. The official coroner’s verdict ruled her death was accidental. Douglass’ body was claimed by Rutgers University under President Mason W. Gross and was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1963.

In 1955 the name of the college was changed from New Jersey College for Women to Douglass College in honor of Mabel Smith Douglass’ accomplishments in founding and firmly establishing the college.


Denda, Kayo, Hawkesworth, M. E., and Perrone, Fernanda. The Douglass Century: Transformation of the Women’s College at Rutgers University New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2018.

Additional information on the history of the New Jersey College for Women, known as Douglass College may be found in Douglass College: a History by George P. Schmidt (Rutgers University Press, 1968).

Douglass, Mabel Smith. The Early History of New Jersey College for Women: Personal Recollections New Brunswick, N.J: New Jersey College for Women, 1930.

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of four series as follows:

  1. Series I (General Records)
  2. Series II (Publications)
  3. Series III (Photographs)
  4. Series IV (Oversize)

Provenance Notes

Based on supporting documentation, these records may have been acquired by the Mabel Smith Douglass Library in 1967, where they were stored in two large suitcases. They may have come to Special Collections & University Archives in 2003. It is unclear whether these records were kept and arranged by Mabel smith Douglass or were made into an artificial collection by an unknown entity. While most of the materials in this collection reside within the date range of Douglass’ life (1877-1933), there are some materials that were created posthumously regarding her disappearance, death, and memorial.

Appraisal Information

Correspondence is loosely interfiled with newspaper clippings and other acid laden material. As the originals have all been microfilmed, the collection would be better conserved by photo copying on acid neutral paper all materials that carry high acidic content, prior to their destruction.

Separated Materials

Correspondence between Dean Douglass and President William H.S. Demarest, 1913-1915. Originals were removed on Oct. 13, 1967 and placed in the University Archives, Alexander Library (archive accession no. 90). The same holds for the Theodore Stanton letters, a more detailed list is included with the finding aid for the latter.

Guide to the Papers of Mabel Smith Douglass
Edited Full Draft
Alexandra DeAngelis
February 2020
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.

Part of the Rutgers University Archives Repository

Rutgers University Libraries
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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New Brunswick NJ 08901-1163
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