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Rediscovering a Grinnell Alum’s Historic Legacy

When her academic advisor suggested that, for a summer research project after her first year at Grinnell College, Feven Adane Getachew ’24 (Ethiopia, UWC of Costa Rica) might delve into the archival records of the college’s oldest living graduate, Feven simply said yes. She had no idea that her work might have a lasting impact on the campus. But that is what happened.

Feven wrote an article for the fall 2021 Grinnell Magazine about her research and the time she spent with Edith Renfrow Smith, a 1937 alum whose grandparents were born into slavery and who was the only Black student on campus during her years at Grinnell. In October, Feven and Grinnell President Anne Harris both delivered remarks at the rededication of the college’s Edith Renfrow Smith Student Art Gallery, where Feven had organized an exhibition of photos from Smith’s life.

“The biggest accomplishment of the rededication is that we were able to install a plaque that reiterates Mrs. Smith's life and accomplishment,” Feven says, noting that there had been no plaque there before. Edith Smith grew up in Grinnell and attended the college at a time when, despite the town’s abolitionist roots, life was not easy for Black residents, Feven wrote in the magazine. “I’ve come to realize that Grinnell was home to her because of the memories she cherished and the connections she forged.” “I am inspired by her accomplishments and contributions to the communities she lived in,” Feven said in her remarks at the ceremony. “I aspire to reiterate her legacy.” “May that be an honored and cherished responsibility for all of us,” added President Harris.