Early Life and Education
Charles Louis Smith (commonly known as Louis Smith) was born on October 2, 1905 in Fayetteville, Tennessee. He was the second child of four children. His father and mother were named George and Edna Smith. His father was a merchant and owned his own store in Fayetteville. Louis Smith was a hard worker. When he was a boy he delivered newspapers in the morning and worked in his father’s store to earn money for his education. He attended the Lincoln Central High School (which he referred to as the Rocky Knob of Hard Knocks and Slow Scholars) where he became involved in various activities. During his senior year he acted as class president, sports editor, participant in dramatics, half-back on the football team and finally graduated as valedictorian.
After high school graduation Louis attended Bryson College for three years. He then transferred to George Peabody College where he received his B.S. degree in American History in 1927. He later received his Master’s in Political Science from Vanderbilt, and obtained his Doctorate from the University of Chicago. His thesis for the Ph.D. from the University of Chicago was “American Democracy and Military Power” (1951). His work was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. It has been translated in German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. During the Kennedy administration, it was selected by scholars as one of the 1,000 most significant books to be placed in the White House Library—a high honor since the selection was made from all books which had been published in the United States. The report which he wrote on the “Rural Institutes of India” continues to be useful in the Far East. As a teacher in the classroom he has explicated knotty problems of politics and government. A goodly number of his men have entered graduate study in public administration and found significant and useful employment in state governments.
Career with Berea
Louis Smith first came to Berea in 1927 as a teacher of 7th and 8th grade social sciences at the Berea Foundation Junior High School. He soon advanced to teaching senior high school level, where he found many of his students were older than him. This was due to the lack of high schools in the Appalachian area. When describing his Junior Foundation School students Louis observed, “They came from remote places; they were not, then, in touch with the world around them. They lived ‘up the hollow’, across the creek, or ‘over yonder.’ As Orson Smith, a Berea graduate once said at an alumni meeting, ‘Berea students don’t come from a place; they come from five miles away from it.’”
After two years of teaching at the Foundation School, Louis spent a year teaching mathematics in Harriman, Tennessee. In 1931, Louis returned to Berea and taught mathematics and social science in the Foundation School. During the fall of that year Louis met Julia Theresa Woodfin after her graduation from Berea College. They were married on August 30, 1936. They later had a daughter named Julia.
When Berea was divided into Upper and Lower Divisions, Louis served as a faculty member in the Lower Division. In 1944 he became the Dean of the Upper Division. In a letter written to a friend Louis admitted his surprise at being elected for such a position. “When I came to Lincoln Hall in 1944 as dean of the Upper Division I had less than a ninny’s idea of what a dean’s true role was. Never had I aspired to such a position. Never in my wildest moment had I ever anticipated that Francis Hutchins would call me to that job.” Despite his inexperience Louis performed his duties well. So well, in fact, that he was made Dean of the entire College in 1947.
Louis Smith’s deanship continued for over twenty years until 1969. During his long tenure he became known as “Mr. Berea” a symbol of Berea College locally, nationally and internationally. Francis Hutchins had described Louis Smith as a man who was “equipped with a mind that worked fast and that had a knack of spotting essential central issues and lifting them from confusing complexity. He had the affectionate regard of his faculty and the confidence and respect of three presidents of Berea. His common and uncommon sense, his courtesy, his charm and his delightful humor comforted all within reach, students and teachers alike.”
Louis Smith did indeed have a remarkable sense of humor. He had a way of putting people at ease through laughter. Louis Smith often expressed his humor through writing. For example, he wrote this poem poking fun at the duties of deanship:
Alas for the Dean, He is no more
On Monday, he lunched with the development committee
On statistics and stew he was filled
Then he dashed to a tea on Funds from Our City
And dined with the Ladies Church Guild
And Tuesday, he went to a curricular lunch
And a tea on good on good citizenship
At dinner he talked with a library bunch
And there wasn’t a day he dared skip
On Wednesday, he twice attended a dinner
One at noon, the other at night.
On Thursday, a luncheon on instruction by Skinner
And a dinner on “War is it Right?”
On Saturday noon, he fell into a swoon;
Missed a talk on the use of our land.
Poor thing, he was through. He never came to,
But he died with a fork in his hand.
During World War II, a Navy V-12 unit was brought to Berea, after the destruction of Pearl Harbor. With their fleet being destroyed, and no ships to be assigned to, these sailors were allowed to continue their regular college education at Berea for a short period of time. Their presence at Berea placed Dr. Smith in a new and rather unusual position. His role was to act as a liaison between the college and the campus navy administration. He discovered that this task went smoothly as long as he “kept the navy sure the college was interested in winning the war and the educational side sure the navy was interested in education.”
Dr. Smith performed a considerable amount of work abroad. In 1954 he accepted an assignment to lecture in India for the Department of State. He became a member of the Commission on Rural Education in Arab Lands and acted as advisor to the Rural Education of India, and Near East Office of the Ford Foundation. He also served as Campus Coordinator between the Government of the United States and Berea College for work with Rural Higher Institutes in India. He assisted in the foundation of ten colleges throughout India, all of which were based upon the Berea model.
Even after Louis Smith’s deanship ended in 1969 he returned to Berea after his sabbatical leave and served as a William Hutchin’s Alumni Professor of Political Science until 1974. His service to Berea lasted for nearly 50 years. Louis Smith made Berea his home until he died on a Saturday afternoon on April 30, 1994 in the Berea Hospital.
Recognition and Awards
The Kentucky Political Science Association awarded Louis Smith with its most prestigious award, the Distinguished Kentucky Political Scientist Degree in 1991.
Louis Smith received honorary degrees from both Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University.