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A Legacy of Librarianship


Montage of historic images including Virginia Thompson Rogers '20

Published February 22, 2024

The story of Virginia Thompson Rogers ’20 and a three-generation connection to the Libraries
By Liisa Honkalehto Rogers AB ’82, MSW ’85

My grandmother, Virginia Thompson Rogers ’20 was, like many Smithies, ahead of her time. During the Great Depression, she pursued a Masters in Library Science and moved her family to Northampton to become Head of Circulation at Neilson Library in 1943. In 1951, she was promoted to Assistant Librarian, and she retired in 1965. She was a smart, funny, and hard working woman who supported her husband and two daughters, and instilled in all of us a love of lifelong learning.

To honor Virginia and my mother, Corinne Rogers Honkalehto ’50 (also a librarian), in 2015 I began directing my Smith donations to the Friends of the Smith College Libraries, and later to the Oculus Society. During the 2020 pandemic, I was thrilled to follow the renovation of Neilson, and to learn of Maya Lin’s connection to Smith through her mother.

In March of 2022, I was able to tour the library with Director of Learning, Research, and Technology Jean Ferguson. It was a wonderful afternoon! Jean spoke of the design and construction process, and was a perfect guide for a fellow librarian (yes, I’m a librarian too!). The architecture, features, technology, art and expertise that are incorporated into the Neilson renovation are awe-inspiring.

During our tour, I asked Jean whether there was a list of former librarians who have worked at Smith Libraries. I thought perhaps I could see my grandmother’s name included on a roster of former staff members. Jean led me to Smith College Special Collections, where the friendly staff looked up my grandmother’s name, and produced an entire manila folder, full of mementos of Virginia! It was more than I could have hoped for, and a thrill to look through. Included were photos of her as a student and during her time leading the library. There were articles she’d written for local newspapers, a résumé, notices of her hire, promotion, and retirement. There was even an article she’d written before she attended library school entitled "Thank you for Firing Me!" about how she pursued her library science degree after being let go from a job at a department store in New York City.

I shared photos of the items in the folder with my sister, Taina Honkalehto ’80 and cousin Nancy Atwood Fogwell ’76 (daughter of Judy Rogers Atwood ’49, Virginia’s older daughter). While both our mothers are gone now, we wonder if they knew of the folder. In any case, we three have been touched by Smith’s Special Collections department’s preservation of our family history, and that of so many other people, events and scholars. It is indeed a wonderful gift to all of us.

Note: In the fall of 2023, Liisa was able to add one more connection to Neilson Library when she became a member of the Friends of the Libraries Executive Committee.