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Mabel Smythe-Haith Papers

Identifier: MSS-3117

Scope and Contents

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.


  • 1950-2004


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

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 BA in 1937. She married Hugh Heyne Smythe in 1939. In 1940 she earned her MA in economics from Northwestern University and her PhD 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, from 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 US Advisory Committee on Educational Exchange, US Advisory Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs, the State Department's Advisory Council on African Affairs, US National Commission on UNESCO, and the US Commission on Civil Rights. President Lyndon Johnson appointed her US 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 US 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 US 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.


2.4 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



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


Gift of Mabel Smythe and Sarah Palmore Lemon, 2004

Processed by

Processed by James N. Gilbreath, October, 2010; revisited and addition processed by Jessica Rayman, 2018 February.
Guide to the Mabel Smythe-Haith Papers
James N. Gilbreath
November 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266