From her obituary: "Born In Florenceville, Ohio, she was a daughter of the late Charles T. and Edith Gibbons Clark. She was graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsle, N.Y., and Columbia Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. Surviving are her husband, J. Avery Smith six children, Dr. David A. Smith, Columbia, S.C., J. Avery Smith III, Hartford, Conn., Dr. Jonathan C. Smith, Hanover, Christopher A. Smith, Coventry, Conn., E. Kathleen Linville, Crofton, Md., and Margaret D. Wagner, Cleveland, Ohio; 17 grandchildren; a great-grandchild; a sister, Jennie Varnum, Lowell, Mass., and several nieces and nephews."
Born after her father died, she and her sister (Jean Varnum) grew up in straitened circumstances (see notes on her mother), no doubt aggravated by the strict Wilburite Quaker dictum that children had to do their suffering in silence. She was often sick as a child, enjoyed the company of pets, had a favorite dog--in short, developed the patterns of reclusiveness, contemplativeness, and love for all God's creatures that also described much of her adult life, the exception being the joy she received then from having hordes of noisy children around her whenever possible (she and Avery started hosting fresh-air kids from New York soon after moving to the country, and eventually their home functioned the same way for grandchildren). As a teenager she took an old quarto-size book on patent law (perhaps one of her father's) and started a scrap book (now in the possession of Kathi Linville). It was short-lived but does tell a few stories. There is a short nature poem printed on newsprint above her name and identified in the scrapbook as "my first poem printed." This would have been age 15 or before, but in truth not showing great promise as a poet.
She was a freshman at Barnesville H.S. in 1925-26, and a camper at Camp Wetzel in the summer of '26-photos from there may be the earliest there are of her, along with a newspaper photo of the Rock Hill Grange Orchestra of Belmont County, of which she must have been a member at the same time that she played violin in the Barnesville H.S. orchestra. That must have been her last year in Ohio, as Jean Varnum recalls her having three years at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. after the family moved there. Barnesville was the better school (though I'm sure easterners then, as now, couldn't appreciate that the midwest is a more advanced and civilized place), and the Clark girls did very well at Hillhouse, with Elma often correcting the Latin teacher.
From there she went on to Vassar in the fall of 1929. Her granddaughter Adele, while a student there, obtained a photocopy of Elma's transcript. It contains the photo--probably her H.S. senior picture--shown above. The transcript shows her (i.e., her mother, Edith Clark) having three different New Haven addresses in her four years of college. She had significant scholarship assistance, both from the college and from the alumni association in New Haven. She worked in the Library at least three of the four years, and was listed in "Directors Group" and as "Lincoln Center worker" in her freshman year. She majored in "Child Study," which must have been a new program, since it was not typed on the standard form, but written in where other subjects had been crossed out. The major required only five courses within the department, the same number she took in both physiology and psychology, and fewer than the eight she took (one every semester) in English. She graduated in 1933, with a GPA of 2.85. She was in Mary McCarthy's class, but decidedly not a member of "The Group."
Letters indicate something of a "whirlwind" romance with Avery, leading to an engagement while other men were still writing in hopes of developing a relationship. A very proper and well-written letter to Elma from J.A. Smith Senior "welcomes" her to the family rather stiffly and with expressions of surprise at the suddenness of the development.
She kept extensive diaries for a few years early in her marriage, while living in New York just before World War II. Perhaps we can quote interesting passages from these here in the future. All these materials are kept by Kathi Linville.
See other notes and portrait linked below