Missouri State provided her with the platform to become a founder in the field of women’s history.
“(MSU professors) taught us how to question things. My education didn’t merely train me to do well, it also gave me the encouragement to believe that I could.”
Smith attended the University of Chicago for PhD studies in the 1970s, a pivotal time in the women’s movement.
“I tend to be a person who speaks up; I’m not passive in any way,” Smith said. “I would watch in the classroom, and I would see that men spoke more, were called on more, and their ideas were allowed to direct what was happening, and it wasn’t the same for women.”
She had an epiphany before a lecture series on British literature.
“I looked at the pictures of everyone presenting, and they were all men. And it really struck me how much men were honored and dominated academia more than women.”
A passion was sparked for finding out more about women throughout history. Smith went on to document and share some previously unknown incredible things women have done.
Her research has a strong focus on British women in the 17th and 18th centuries, and she has written about her findings that many women actually worked in professions once thought to be made up only of men, such as laborers, blacksmiths and shop owners.
After graduate studies she went on to a career in academia, eventually teaching at the University of Cincinnati. Smith, now a professor emerita, has been retired for about two years but still travels to England regularly for research.
Smith came back to her alma mater about a year ago to speak about her research and career after an invitation from Dr. Kathleen Kennedy, head of the history department.
“She means so much to the University,” Kennedy said. “She’s a role model for a number of our students who may not initially envision themselves going on to become one of the best historians in their field. She was someone who was able to do that as a first-generation college student. We wanted to honor her at the end of her career and to say as an institution: ‘We are proud of you.’ ”