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W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library Manuscript Collections

Guide to the Mabel Smythe-Haith Papers MSS.3117


Finding aid prepared by James N. Gilbreath


University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 35487-0266

November 2010


This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2010-11-16T10:43-0600

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Collection Title:

Mabel Smythe-Haith Papers

Unit ID:



University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama


2.4 Linear feet




Papers, books, and photographs belonging to Mabel Smythe-Haith, former ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, concerning academics, diplomacy, and civil rights.

Preferred Citation:

Mabel Smythe-Haith Papers, W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama

Biographical/Historical note

Mabel Murphy Smythe-Haith was born on April 3, 1918, to Harry Saunders and Josephine Dibble Murphy in Montgomery, Alabama. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta for three years and graduated from Mount Holyoke College with her B.A. in 1937. She married Hugh Heyne Smythe in 1939. In 1940 she earned her M.A. in economics from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1942.

From 1942-1945, Smythe-Haith was an assistant professor at Lincoln University in Missouri, and from 1945-1946, she was a professor at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University. She and her husband were both visiting professors at Shiga University in Hikone, Japan, in 1951-1953. In 1954, she assumed the position of Deputy Director for nonlegal research for school desegregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Between 1954 and 1975, Smythe-Haith held several memberships on several federal committees and commissions, including the U.S. Advisory Committee on Educational Exchange, U.S. Advisory Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs, the State Department's Advisory Council on African Affairs, U.S. National Commission on UNESCO, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. President Lyndon Johnson appointed her U.S. delegate to the 13th general conference of UNESCO in Paris, France, in 1964. Also during this time Smythe-Haith was an instructor and coordinating principle of New Lincoln High School in New York, a consultant for Encyclopedia Britannica, and director and then vice president for research and publications for the Phelps-Stokes Fund in New York.

After her husband's death in 1977, Smythe-Haith was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon and to Equatorial Guinea in 1979, when diplomatic relations were re-established with that country. Smythe-Haith was called back to the U.S., in 1980, as deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the State Department. Upon President Regan's assumption of the Presidency, Smythe-Haith resigned, returning to academia. She went to Northwestern University where she served first as the Melville J. Herskovits Professor and then as associate director of the African studies program. She became professor emerita in 1985, the same year she married her second husband, Robert Haith, Jr., who passed away in 1998.

Mabel Smythe-Haith had one daughter, Karen Pamela Smythe. Smythe-Haith died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on February 7, 2006, in her home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Access Restrictions:


Usage Restrictions:


Acquisition Information:

Gift of Mabel Smythe and Sarah Palmore Lemon, 2004

Processing Information:

Processed by

James N. Gilbreath, October, 2010

Scope and Contents note

Papers, books, and photographs belonging to Mabel Smythe-Haith, former ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Materials cover approximately 1950 to 2004, except for the photographs, which date to Smythe-Haith's youth.

Outgoing correspondence include include letters from her travels in Europe in the 1960s, and Smythe-Haith's later years. Incoming correspondence primarily relates to Smythe-Haith's post-ambassadorial years, including academic and honorial correspondence. Miscellaneous personal documents include her first husband's death certificate, honorable discharge, clippings, business cards, and personal notes.

Photographs date from 1938 to the late 1980s. Included are personal photographs, pictures of her husband, Hugh H. Smythe, and his ambassadorial work, picures of her own ambassadorial work, and photographs of her own travels.

Academic documents primarily relate to an official tour through Africa by a group of American scholars. Civil Rights documents contain copies of correspondence to and by W.E.B DuBois from the 1930s and publications relating to African Americans in academia in the late 1980s. Miscellaneous publications include publications relating to Smythe-Haith's fields of work and study.

Also present are books by Smythe-Haith and books relating to her work and studies. Additionally, the collection includes oversize photographs, a Japanese watercolor with dedication, and a vellum scroll bestowing the title "Great Dame of Honor" upon Smythe-Haith.

Outgoing Correspondence Box 3117.001 Folder 1

Incoming Correspondence Box 3117.001 Folder 2

Personal Miscellaneous Documents Box 3117.001 Folder 3

Photographs Box 3117.001 Folder 4

Academic Documents Box 3117.001 Folder 5

Civil Rights Documents Box 3117.001 Folder 6

Miscellaneous Publications Box 3117.001 Folder 7

Intensive English Conversation, vol. 1, 2, and Teacher's Manual Box 3117.001 Folder 8

Continuity and Change in Southern Africa Box 3117.001 Folder 9

Malta Box 3117.001 Folder 10

The Black American Reference Book Box 3117.001 Folder 11

Photograph in Painted Frame Box 3117.002 Folder 1

Vellum Scroll with Translation Box 3117.002 Folder 2

Japanese Watercolor Box 3117.002 Folder 3

Large Matted Photographs Box 3117.002 Folder 4