Sara Frances Smith
Collection, ca. 1917-1971

SC23318

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift, Bunny Boyer, Book Bonanza, Shillington, Pennsylvania
Processed By: Vicki Weiss, Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, December 2014

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Biographical/Historical Note:

The items in the collection are souvenirs of the working relationship between John H. Finley (1863-1940) and William C. Smith (ca. 1869-1943). The items were inherited by Smith’s daughter, Sarah Frances Smith, who, at the time of her father’s death, was director of adult education in the Stamford, Connecticut, school system.

John H. Finley served as commissioner of education for New York State and president of the University of the State of New York from 1913 to 1921. He resigned his post November 18, 1920; his last day on the job was January 15, 1921, after which he served on the staff of the New York Times “in an editorial and advisory capacity.” (New York Times, November 21, 1920) Prior to becoming commissioner of education, he was president of the College of the City of New York (City College).

William C. Smith was named supervisor of immigrant education in the New York State Education Department in 1917. Prior to working for the education department, he served as principal of the Central Vocational School in Troy, which became Troy High School. When he retired in 1939, the New York Times noted he had been hired by the state education department “to make a survey to determine the extent of the immigrant problem in the state. Out of this survey came the formation of the Americanization bureau in the department, the forerunner of the present Bureau of Adult Education.”

Scope and Content Note:

The collection consists of a book, a leaflet, a photograph, and a photocopy of an article that was published in the New York Times.

The book, The French in the Heart of America, written by John Finley and first published in 1915, is primarily a collection of lectures the author, as the New York State commissioner of education, delivered during a speaking tour of France. The essays explore the ways in which the French influenced the American landscape and identity between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, contributing to the culture of the United States in place names, language, and governmental structures.

The copy of the book in this collection was printed in 1918. It is inscribed by John H. Finley in 1921 and by Sarah Frances Smith in 1971. In the 1921 inscription, Finley writes that William H. Smith “has done more than any of the rest of us to make the later immigrants dear to the heart of America – and so help them to become true Americans.” He signs it “from his lasting friend, John H. Finley” and dates it “January 15, 1921, (11:30 p.m.),” thirty minutes before his service as commissioner of education ends.

The 1971 inscription signed “Sarah Frances Smith, a daughter of William C. Smith who followed in his work with the immigrant” is “[t]o Paul and Marcelle whose gifts of body, mind, and spirit have followed loyally and generously the traditions of French in the heart of America.”

The four-page leaflet is entitled “A Message from France.” The leaflet consists of the facsimile of a letter in French plus its translation. The introductory note says the note is from a pupil in the Lycée Victor Duruy in Paris, which Finley visited May 25, 1917.

The black-and-white photograph shows New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith standing on the steps of the State Education Building, flanked by Commissioner of Education John H. Finley and General John J. Pershing February 27, 1920. The photograph is similar to one that was published in the February 28, 1920, issue of the Albany Knickerbocker Press. Based on information from newspaper articles in the Press, the Albany Evening Journal, the Albany Argus and the Albany Times Union, it appears Pershing visited the city and the Watervliet Arsenal as part of a trip during which he was entertaining the idea of running for president.

The photocopy of the article from the July 22, 1917, issue of the New York Times includes an engraving of a head-and-shoulders portrait of Finley “who has recently returned from a two months’ visit to France.”  The title of the article, written by Finley, is “‘Not Fighting for France, But With Her’: American Troops Are Now Taking Their Place on Civilization’s Line. – Unshakable Confidence in Victory Among the French.”

Item List:


Box Item Description
1 1 Finley, John H. The French in the Heart of America (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918)
1 2 “A Message from France” – Facsimile of a letter from a pupil in the Lycée Victor Duruy in Paris, written in 1917
1 3 Black-and-white photograph of New York State Governor Al Smith, standing on the steps of the State Education Building, flanked by Commissioner of Education John H. Finley and General John J. Pershing, [February 27, 1920]
1 4 Finley, John H. “‘Not Fighting for France, But With Her’: American Troops Are Now Taking Their Place on Civilization’s Line. – Unshakable Confidence in Victory Among the French.” (New York Times, July 22, 1917)
Last Updated: January 27, 2015