Archival Collections
Columbia University Archives

Alexander Smith papers, 1900-1919 

Smith, Alexander,
Phys. Desc: 
5.5 linear feet (5.5 linear feet 5 record cartons; 1 document box)
Call Number: 
Columbia University Archives
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Biographical Note

Alexander Smith was born on September 11, 1865 in Edinburgh, Scotland son of Alexander and Isabella (Carter) Smith. His grandfather was a sculptor and his father a musician. Smith studied seven years at the Edinburgh Collegiate School and then entered the University of Edinburgh in 1882 where he received his B.S. in chemistry in 1886. Although he spent much of his time at university studying astronomy, upon graduation he realized there was little prospect of making a career in that area and went to study organic chemistry at the University of Munich under Adolph Ritter von Baeyer earning his Ph.D. in 1889. After receiving his doctorate he served one year as an assistant in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. During the period 1890 to 1894 he was professor of chemistry and mineralogy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. In 1894 he came to the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of chemistry. He was associate professor of chemistry from 1898 to 1903 and professor of chemistry from 1904 until he left the University of Chicago in 1911. During two years of this period he was dean of the Junior Colleges. In 1911 he left the University of Chicago to become professor and head of the department of chemistry at Columbia University where he remained until illness compelled him to retire in 1919. Dr. Smith was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1915) and an honorary member of the Spanish Society of Physics and Chemistry (1911). In 1911 he was president of the American Chemical Society. In 1912 he received the Keith Prize and Medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh for his groundbreaking studies on the forms of sulfur. In 1919, the University of Edinburgh awarded him the honorary degree, LL.D. Smith published two very successful textbooks explaining the teaching of chemistry and physics to beginners: The Teaching of Chemistry and Physics in the High School (1902), written with Edwin H. Hall and the 1906 Introduction to General Inorganic Chemistry . On February 16, 1905 Alexander Smith married Sara Bowles of Memphis, TN. They had two children, Isabella Carter Smith, born February 8, 1909 and William Bowles Smith, born October 27, 1910. After three years battling a lingering illness, Alexander Smith died on September 8, 1922 in Edinburgh. (The above information was taken from Biography Resource Center . The Gale Group, 2003; Alexander Smith, The Investigator [reprinted from Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 9, No. 2. February, 1932] by Ralph H. McKee; and National Academy of Sciences: Biographical Memoir Alexander Smith , 1865-1922 by William A. Noyes [Vol. XXI, twelfth memoir, 1923]. For more biographical information on Alexander Smith, see UA #0004 Historical Biographical Files.)

Scope and Contents

Professional and personal correspondence of Dr. Alexander Smith, just prior to and during his time as head of the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University (1911-1919). The collection contains correspondence, both professional and personal, generated by and sent to Dr. Alexander Smith just prior to and during his time as head of the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University, 1911 through 1919. Although the collection consists primarily of correspondence, it also includes meeting minutes, reports, and printed matter from organizations and projects with which Smith was associated. Correspondence is with colleagues outside and within the Columbia community as well as with family, vendors and billing agents. Professional topics include personnel issues, recommendation requests and letters, inquiries regarding positions (both teaching and studying) within Columbia and at other institutions, speeches and lectures Smith was either asked to make or attend, advice on chemical patents, requests for chemical analyses, invitations to meetings and conferences, and chemistry curriculum issues. Personal correspondence includes letters with family members in Scotland and the United States, billing and service queries with vendors, insurance and investment correspondence, as well as information concerning real estate in Chicago and in Pulaski, VA.