Skip to main content

Henry Louis Smith Collection

Identifier: DC046

Scope and Contents

The collection is organized into Biographical Material (1947-1951), Correspondence (1910-1949), Literary Material (1881-1938 and undated), Grade Books (1888-1901), Printed Material (1886-1904, 1991), Photographs (1882-1897 and undated), and Memorabilia. The Biographical Material consists of newspaper and magazine articles about Smith. The correspondence includes general correspondence with family and coworkers (1910-1949), letters relating to Davidson College (1918-1949), letters to and from the Davidson College Alumni Office (1931-1949), correspondence with F.L. Jackson (1922-1947), correspondence regarding the Davidson Cotton Mills, and two postcards sent from Greensboro. The general correspondences includes references to teaching the Bible in public schools, Prohibition, student government and conditions at the University of South Carolina, and civic affairs in Greensboro. The Davidson College and F. L. Jackson correspondence primarily concern alumni activities and donations made by Smith to the college. The Davidson Cotton Mill file contains notices to stock holders, financial reports and some direct correspondence with Smith. Smith was one of the organizers of the Linden Cotton Mills which eventually became part of the Davidson Cotton Mill. The Literary Materials include two copies of an essay written in 1881, one of which contains notes by a faculty member critiquing the paper. There is a typescript entitled "Some Unimportant Memories of Student Life at Davidson and one entitled "My Work at Davidson, 1887-1912" There are also three notebooks containing copies of speeches given by Smith and a file on Smith's appearance on the radio program "Famous First Facts" to discuss his work with X-Rays. There is also a typescript of an 1895 diary of a bicycle trip taken by Smith and his brothers Egbert and Charles Alphonso. The four grade books list students and courses taught by Smith from 1888 to 1901. The Printed Materials include copies of magazines containing speeches and articles by Smith and a typescript "In Memoriam." "In Memoriam" was prepared by Smith's son O. Norris Smith in 1991 and contains transcriptions of letters from Henry Louis Smith's parents, reminiscences by Smith, copies of articles and excerpts from the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of Washington and Lee. In addition, "In Memoriam" contains several original letters (1887-1889) by Smith and others concerning his employment at Davidson. The photographs include formal protraits of Smith, family pictures, a group photograph taken in Paris in 1889, scenes on the Davidson campus, and faculty photographs. Some of the photographs were originally housed in a photograph album and have been rehoused for preservation purposes. The Memorabilia includes the Photograph Album and an aluminum disk with the original Famous First Facts recording. There is a copy of this on audiocassette available in the archives. See Also DC017, Charles Alphonso Smith Collection; DC0081s Smith, Egbert Watson Speech; DC0082s, Smith, Hay Watson Speech; and RG 2/1.10 President's Office. Smith Henry Louis. The majority of Henry Louis Smith's personal papers are housed at Washington and Lee University.


  • Creation: 1881 - 1949

Biographical / Historical

Henry Louis Smith, 1859-1951 was born in Greensboro, NC, the oldest son of Rev. Jacob Henry. He attended Davidson College and was graduated in 1881. He then served as principle of the Selma Academy. He accepted a position on the faculty of Davidson College in 1886 and also began graduate work at the University of Virginia. Smith taught physics and astronomy and was superintendent of grounds and buildings from 1890 to 1900. While a professor, Smith performed the first X-ray experiment in the United States in 1896. Elected president of Davidson College in 1901, Smith tripled the enrollment, and enlarged the faculty, physical facilities and endowment. In 1912 he left Davidson to accept the presidency of Washington and Lee University. During his tenure as president, the student enrollment doubled and again he increased the size of the faculty and the university's endowment. During World War I his plan for a propaganda campaign using balloons was adopted and Woodrow Wilson later credited Smith with helping to shorten the war. In 1929, he retired and moved back to Greensboro where he remained active in civic and religious affairs until his death in 1951.


0.63 Linear Feet (2 boxes + Artifacts)