Walter George Smith papers
Held at: Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center [Contact Us]100 E. Wynnewood Rd., Wynnewood, PA
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Walter George Smith was born in Mac-o-Cheek, Logan County, Ohio on November 24, 1854 to Thomas Kilby Smith, a Civil War general, and Elizabeth Budd McCullough. He moved to the Torresdale section of Philadelphia in the autumn of 1865, and received his primary education at the Protestant Episcopal Academy, which was located at the corner of Juniper and Locust Streets. Smith graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and began practicing law in 1879.
At the onset of his legal career, Smith was often retained as defense counsel in homicide cases, including, for example, the case of Theodore J. McGuirk in 1880. His most notable legal work, however, was toward bringing about uniform divorce laws in various states, lessening the number of grounds for granting divorce, and generally fighting against laws that eased divorce restrictions. Smith also notably represented the widow of General U.S. Grant in a matter concerning the publication of General Grant's memoirs, and shortly thereafter represented Jefferson Davis in a similar matter (see Box 1 Folder 5).
On January 9, 1890, Smith married Elizabeth Langstreth Drexel, sister of St. Katharine Drexel. Elizabeth died just 9 months later on September 26, 1890. Smith did not remarry and did not have any children.
In 1891, Smith was elected as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania as a representative of the Alumni Association and remained a member for 18 years until 1909, when he resigned over an opposition to the appointment of Dr. J.P. Lichtenberger as an associate professor at Wharton. Smith was vehemently opposed to Lichtenberger's stance on divorce and to his appointment, and the resignation made national headlines. (See Box 1 Folders 1-3).
As a devout Catholic and philanthropist, Smith served on a number of boards and was awarded a number of honors. In 1896, he was elected President of the American Catholic Historical Societies for the state of Pennsylvania, and for 30 years was a Manager of St. Vincent's Foundling Asylum. In 1907, Smith became a member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic University and in 1916 a member of the Board of Public Education of the City of Philadelphia.
In 1917, he was elected President of the American Bar Association, and in 1919 was appointed a Commissioner for Relief in the Near East. Smith sailed for Constantinople at this time, where he organized the distribution of food and clothing in stricken regions of Turkey. In 1923, he was appointed as a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, and in May of that year embarked on a two-month inspection of Pueblo and Navajo tribes. Journals and travel logs from these trips are part of this collection.
Smith's devotion to Catholicism was affirmed in 1923 when the University of Notre Dame awarded him the Laetare Medal, the highest order accorded to a member of the Roman Catholic laity.
Smith died on April 4, 1924 in Philadelphia.
Much of the material in this collection concerns Walter George Smith's career as an attorney in Philadelphia, and specifically his involvement working to maintain stringent divorce laws and to establish uniform state laws. In 1909, Smith made national headlines when he resigned from the University of Pennsylvania because the school appointed James P. Lichtenberger, with whom Smith strongly disagreed on the divorce issue, as an associate professor at Wharton. The correspondence contains communications between Smith and the Board of Trustees, and many letters from those who supported Smith's decision to resign. Other notable items within the correspondence include letters to and from Jefferson Davis regarding a legal matter resulting from the publication of Davis' memoirs, and a letter from Theodore Roosevelt.
As a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, Smith visited Pueblo and Navajo tribes, and the collection contains reports of those inspections. As a Commissioner for Relief in the Near East, Smith sailed to Istanbul, where he organized the distribution of food and clothing in stricken regions of Turkey. Travel logs and diaries from this trip, as well as from several European trips are included in the collection.
Smith was a prolific public speaker, and made many speeches and addresses during his lifetime. The speeches and addresses covered a myriad of topics, notably divorce and uniform state laws. Other topics include Abraham Lincoln, the role of women in American society, and the Near East. Many of the speeches and addresses in this collection are in original form, as well as in published form. The Speeches, Addresses, and Unpublished Works series also contains an autobiography of Walter George Smith.
The scrapbooks contain original newspaper clippings that detail Smith's work as an attorney, especially with regard to the issue of divorce and his resignation from the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees. The scrapbooks also include obituaries and biographies of Smith, and memorabilia from various events and banquets that Smith attended.
While W.G. Smith's writings and papers make up the majority of the collection, there is also material relating to other Smith family members, including his sister, Helen Grace Smith and Thomas Kilby Smith.
The Published Writings series contains mostly journals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that contain Smith's essays and speeches.
Series 1. Correspondence (1885-1924)
Series 2. Diaries, Journals, and Travel Logs (1905-1923)
Series 3. Speeches, Addresses, and Unpublished Writings (circa 1899-1918)
Series 4. Scrapbooks, Memorabilia, and Obituaries (1836-1930)
Series 5. Family Correspondence (1857-1933)
Series 6. Published Writings (1890-1930)
Accession number 1990.048.
This is a revision of an older finding aid located in hard copy at PAHRC.
Some of the scrapbooks and their contained newspaper clippings are brittle.
Bryson, Thomas A. The Federal Career of Walter George Smith. Offprint from Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives. Washington D.C.: The National Archives and Records Service, Fall 1972. Call no. P008.717
Bryson, Thomas A. An Independent Armenia: The Counsel for the Defense. New York: Armenian General Benevolent Union of America, Inc., Spring 1969. Call no. P008.718
Bryson, Thomas A. Walter George Smith and General Grant's Memoirs. Offprint from the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, v. 94, no. 2. Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, April 1970.
Bryson, Thomas A. Walter George Smith Papers and the Armenian Question at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Philadelphia: The American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, March 1970.
Bryson, Thomas A. The Walter George Smith Papers in the Archives of the American Catholic Historical Society. Philadelphia: The American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, December 1969. Call no. P008.714
Hall, William H. Reconstruction in Turkey: A Series of Reports Compiled for the American Committee of Armenian and Syrian Relief. New York: American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, 1918. Call no. DR 418.A7 1918
Near East Relief. The New Near East. Vol. 5: No. 6-12 (Jan - Sept 1920) and Vol. 6: No. 1-5 (Oct 1920-Feb 1921). Call no. Per-N
- Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889
- Lichtenberger, James Pendleton, 1870-1953
- Smith, Helen Grace, 1865-
- Smith, Thomas Kilby, 1820-1887
- Board of Indian Commissioners (U.S.)
- Catholic intellectuals
- Divorce--United States--History
- Uniform state laws--History
- Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.