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Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Smith, Howard W., 1903

Over the decades our graduates have developed distinguished careers as justices, members of Congress, ambassadors, educators, business people, and community leaders in many fields. This site features some of those late graduates.

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Howard Worth Smith

Congressman from Virginia

Howard W. Smith was born February 2, 1883 in Broad Run, Virginia. He attended public schools and graduated from Bethel Military Academy, Warrenton, Virginia, in 1901. He took his LL.B. at the law department of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1903, was admitted to the bar in 1904 and practiced in Alexandria, Virginia. During World War I, he was assistant general counsel to the Federal Alien Property Custodian. From 1918 to 1922 he was Commonwealth's Attorney of Alexandria and from 1922 to 1930 served as a judge while also engaged in banking and farming. He was elected in 1930 to Congress from Virginia. He initially supported New Deal measures such as the Tennessee Valley Authority Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act and authored the anti-Communist Smith Act in 1940.

A leader of the conservative coalition, Smith led the opposition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including an investigation of the NLRB in which Smith teamed with William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor. As chairman of the all-powerful United States House Committee on Rules after 1955, Smith controlled the flow of legislation in the House. An opponent of racial integration, Smith used his power as Rules Committee chairman to keep much civil rights legislation from even coming to a vote on the House floor.

Smith attempted to delay the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and when pressured to send the bill to the floor of Congress, he offered an amendment to insert "sex" after the word "religion," thereby adding gender as a protected class of Title VII of the Act. The prohibition on sex discrimination was added on the floor by Smith. While Smith was a conservative who strongly opposed civil rights laws for blacks, he supported such laws for women. Smith's amendment passed by a vote of 168 to 133. Historians debate Smith's motivations, yet he did have long-standing ties with women’s rights advocates. In 1966, Smith was defeated for re-nomination in the Democratic primary by another UVA Law alumnus, George Rawlings, who in turn lost to Republican William L. Scott. Smith resumed the practice of law in Alexandria, where he died at age 93 on October 3, 1976. He was iburied in Georgetown Cemetery, Broad Run, Virginia.

Papers of Howard Worth Smith in Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

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