Hilda Worthington Smith sits all day in a comfortable chair with a book full of memories in front of her, waiting impatiently for a broken hip to mend.
"It's my autobiography," 90-year-old Smith tells you in a strong voice, "a friend of mine in Boston put it together for me."
The book is bound in soft backing, about the size of a picture album, the print in neatly typewritten pages.
She calls it "Opening Vistas In Workers' Education" -- a dossier that qualifies her for any job where poverty exists or where a fight for equal rights goes on.
She takes the listener through each page of her life, making the '90s, the turn of the century, a grim Depression, recovery programs and world wars, all sound like yesterday.
"Unique" is too easy a word to describe a long, unselfish lifetime dedicated to helping the poor and bringing equal rights to women, while still finding time to have two books of poetry published.
"My work is not over by any means. I intend to keep on, as soon as I get on my feet and get rid of that thing," Smith says, pointing to the aluminum walker she uses to get around.
A big woman, 2 inches under 6 feet, with husky shoulders, a handsome face, tall even sitting down, you can imagine her as a young student at Bryn Mawr, marching through the streets of Philadelphia in her first suffragette parade.
"It was there they threw rotten vegetables at us," she says without anger. "I was struck in the face by a rotten potato.
"I set out to educate those people and was told by a gaunt old woman, 'Don't talk to me about sufferin'. I've seen enough sufferin' to last me all my life."
Born in 1888 in New York City, Smith grew up in comfortable surroundings -- which ironically made her aware of the poverty in the city slums.
As if the poor and uneducated of America were her fault, she accpeted more than a share of the blame and dedicated her life to correcting conditions.
"From the time I was a student at Bryn Mawr leading a fight to eliminate hazing, until the age of 80 when the AFL-CIO appointed me project manager for four labor leadership projects, I have not had a prolonged vacation."
As a student, Smith says, "I could not play an instrument, I thought most operas dull, couldn't draw, could not dance, could not play tennis, field hockey, or basketball very well.
"The material world seemed my enemy, I bumped into doors -- tearing my clothes -- and mechanical principles confused me. But I did have a sense of humor."
In 1919, when Smith was 31, she was asked to become dean of Bryn Mawr, a job she accepted with fright.
School and organization came first -- but a strong second was her concern for the workers' section of town, where, she decided, recreation facilities were needed to keep the young people out of trouble.
"We raised funds and found a place for a community center," Smith says, "and I invited students to come in and help out."
It might have been one of the first school lunch programs ever instituted: For three cents. the local school children could get a bowl of hot soup.
The plight of women in factories, the conditions of scrubwomen, the lack of education of the immigrant trying to make it in America -- all became her cause.
It was during the winter of 1920-21, her third year as dean, that President M. Carey Thomas returned from abroad and told of the visits she made to workers' schools in England, suggesting that a similar program be tried out at Bryn Mawr. It was, and for the next 13 years Smith spent her summers with working women.
"They came from everywhere, ranging in ages from 18 to 35," Smith remembers. "Garment workers from New York, textile workers from New England, telephone operators from Cincinnati, a waitress from Colorado. Russians in native dress hitchhiked to Bryn Mawr.
"An Italian dressmaker, Lithuanians, Poles and Pennsylvania Germans mingled with mountain people, all excited and coming to learn," she recalls.
They came from hard working conditions, long hours of monotony, afraid to move without adking permission. The school physician said they were exhausted after months of overwork and insufficient food.
By the end of summer, having learned their lessons well, the women returned to the sweatshops to demand that the owners establish rest rooms, provide fire exits, install more toilets and renovate the filthy lunch rooms.
In 1929, Smith turned her family estate along the Hudson River into a school for women workers, calling it Vineyard School.
Some residents resented the intrusion from New York's slums, and one evening the local Klan burned a cross on the lawn of the school.
But the project was successful, as Smith sought funds from wealthy friends and the budding labor unions.
She headed for Washington to spend two days, with $16 for carfare and $15 for hotel and meals. Her purpose was to seek federal funds for workers' education.
Upon her return, a telegram was waiting from Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA's Federal Relief Administration. It said, "Please report to work on Monday."
Deciding that she could do more good working with the government, she left the worker's school, came to Washington and was assigned to the Emergency Education Division.
"There were 12 million unemployed people," she remembers. "The message from my friends, labor people, teachers and the workers was that I had sold out to the government." In 1934, however, her dream came true when the first conference on workers' education was called by the federal government.
The demand for teachers came from labor unions, and Smith was invited to a conference at the White House, at Eleanor Roosevelt's suggestion, to prepare plans for the relief of unemployed women.
Events moved fast between the summer of '34 and '35. Schools and camps providing living accommodations grew from 2,000 to 3,000, giving work to 700 unemployed teachers. By the end of '35, they had 65,000 students.
"The students came to us," Smith recalls, "thin, emaciated, mostly under 21, overwhelmed by the sight of a simple supper on the first night. They had symptoms of long fatigue, exhausted nerves, mental strain.
"It was they that some newspaper headlines hit hard when they printed, 'Federal Funds Used For Red Schools.'"
But the attacks proved to be beneficial: "We relaxed, knowing that they were bringing wide publicity with actual facts of why the schools were set up."
The program was nicknamed "She-She-She," after the mens' counterpart, the CCC.
When the program was terminated in 1941, Smith took charge of Community Services for the War Housing Projects under the Public Housing Administration.
The war's end found her back in education, seeking state and federal funds for her schools, and economists and labor moved to help her get the bill before the House Committee of Education and Labor.
A subcommittee held hearings. By that time, the program had reached 200 classes sponsored by the University of Michigan (one of the universities supporting the workers' and union education programs), and some people felt it was tainted with socialism.
Finally, Michigan's board of regents voted to fire 40 teachers and close the 200 classrooms throughout the state.
Although many believed that she had made a mistake, the optimistic Smith's answer was, "The others have not let us down -- Michigan let us down good and hard." The other universities continued the program.
Still on the firing line in 1964, Smith, then 75, was assigned to the Community Action Program of the Office of Economic Opportunity to coordinate a drive against poverty.
She remained at OEO until an injury forced her to terminate her work for a year. But in 1969 she recovered, and the ambitious 80-year-old went to work for the AFL-CIO to report on a labor leadership project sponsored by the University of West Virginia.
Finally grounded now, Smith spends her long days and nights watching TV, listening to radio, playing records and reading everything she gets her hands on.
"I prefer essays, travel books. I love travel, biographies, and I put detective novels last," she says. An active member os the National Organization for Wormen, Smith voted for Carter by absentee ballot in '76.
The days are long, but they have been made lighter in the past few weeks by the antics of a two-month-old cocker spaniel brought in each day by one of her nurses. Smith laughs, "He insists on sitting on my feet."
What next for Smith when she gets out of her aluminum "starters gate"?
"I don't know," she says, "there is still a lot of work to do."