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Father's Wish For Daughters' Education Carries Through 5 Generations


Dee Ann Rexroat '82

Farmer Eliphalet A. Nichols moved to Mount Vernon to ensure that his motherless daughters, Rachel Nichols Smith (left, Cornell Academy class of 1882) and Emily Nichols Richardson (Cornell College class of 1884), received a good education.

In 1853, the year of Cornell’s founding, a Canadian schoolmaster named Eliphalet A. Nichols walked from DeKalb, Ill., to Jones County, Iowa, and purchased 160 acres of virgin prairie at $1.25 an acre. He married the girl next door, who died when their daughters, Emily and Rachel, were 12 and 10. Two years later the widower rented the farm and moved the family to Mount Vernon so his daughters could attend the Cornell academy and college.

His keen appreciation of education resulted in five generations of Cornellians, including a great-great-great-grandson who will graduate in 2003, Cornell’s sesquicentennial.

“I’m impressed that he moved to Mount Vernon and cared about finding a good education for daughters, at a time in rural Iowa when I doubt that the education of women was uppermost in most farmer-fathers’ minds,” wrote Lynn Balster Liontos ’65, his great-great-granddaughter.

Four generations of Cornell women (from left): Rachel Nichols Smith 1882, Gladys Smith McNeilly ’15, Jean McNeilly Balster ’42, and Lynn Balster Liontos ’65.

When his daughters were 12 and 14, Nichols wrote in a diary, “… a new idea presented itself … that there were other needs than farming. This other special need is the education of my daughters.” Emily and Rachel each sent all their children to Cornell, but it is Rachel’s family line that continues today.

Like her father, Rachel and her husband, John Newton Smith (1887 Cornell Academy), moved from the original family farm near Center Junction to Mount Vernon when their oldest, Vera ’09, was ready for college. Their second oldest, Gladys, attended for one year (1911-12) “but her entire life was greatly enhanced by the experiences and culture that surrounded her during her association with Cornell,” writes her daughter, Ruth McNeilly Buck (who attended Iowa State University).

Their sons, Paul Nichols Smith and Stuart Newton Smith, were members of the class of 1920. Stuart became mayor of Ames. Paul married Samara Perrine, who attended summer music school at Cornell and is the sister of Beahl T. Perrine of the Hall-Perrine Foundation, a major supporter of Cornell. Their daughter is Barbara Smith Greer ’50.

Gladys Smith McNeilly ’15 (right) performed in She Stoops To Conquer, set in front of King Chapel.

Gladys sent two of her children to Cornell, Jean McNeilly Balster ’42 and John Newton McNeilly ’49. Three of Jean’s children are Cornellians: Lynn Balster Liontos ’65, Susan Balster Zazas ’71, and David Balster ’69. David and Barbara May Balster ’72 are the parents of Brian, the family’s fifth-generation Cornellian. Brian is an environmental studies major, an admissions tour guide, and appears in the Cornell recruiting video.


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