Biography and History

H. (Howard) Alexander Smith served as the executive secretary of Princeton University and was later elected to the United States Senate representing New Jersey. Smith made contributions to United States foreign policy while serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

H. Alexander Smith was born in New York City on January 30, 1880. His father, Abram Alexander Smith, was a respected physician and teacher. Smith attended high school at the Cutler School, a private prep school. He studied as an undergraduate at Princeton, graduating with an A.B. in 1901. While at Princeton, he befriended Professor Woodrow Wilson. Wilson penned a letter of recommendation for Smith, which helped him get accepted to Columbia Law School.

During his time at Columbia, Smith met Helen Dominick, daughter of a prominent New York City lawyer. They married in 1902 and had their first child, Helen, in 1903. Smith graduated from Columbia Law in 1904 and passed the New York State Bar exam shortly there after. After graduation, Smith began his career working for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. However, Smith developed tuberculosis shortly after and relocated to the cleaner and drier air of Colorado in an attempt to ease the complications associated with his illness. Smith passed the Colorado Bar exam in 1906 and slowly returned to legal practice. He spent his first few years in Colorado between legal work for the law firm of Lunt, Brooks and Wilcox and a land investment venture with a partner at the firm. After the investment failed in 1911, Smith partnered with Daniel Knowlton to establish the firm of Smith and Knowlton. The firm focused on cases involving public utilities, natural resources, estates, and property.

Though Smith was a relatively successful attorney, he maintained a desire to serve the public. He jumped at an opportunity to turn to public service at the outbreak of World War I. Smith involved himself in relief work, helping to raise money for various charities that aimed to provide relief to war-torn European nations. In order to focus what he considered at scattershot relief effort, Smith organized the War Sufferers’ Relief Committee in 1916.

Smith became directly involved in government service after the United States’ entry into World War I. Unable to pass the Army physical, he took the position Federal Food Administrator for El Paso County. Smith worked to enroll families in the food conservation program to aid the war effort. The county office was a division of the United States Food Administration, and after distinguishing himself through this work, Herbert Hoover tapped Smith to join the staff of the Food Administration in Washington, D.C. Smith arrived in Washington in December 1917 and began working in the cooperating organizations section of the States Administration Division of the Food Administration. The responsibility of his position involved streamlining operations, and identifying needs and targeting the best religious, fraternal, or social organization that could fulfill those needs.

While in Washington, Smith developed a renewed interest in his alma mater. Smith was encouraged by fellow alumni critical of current university policy to visit Princeton, and after receiving approval from President John Grier Hibben, he spent two months of 1919 interviewing administration, faculty, and trustees. Shortly after completing this task, Hibben offered Smith a position at the University. Smith spent the next year chairing the Committee on University Organization, which surveyed finances, academics, campus life, the endowment campaign, and the University’s future goals, and concluded that the University needed to operate in a more business-like, streamlined manner. Among the committee’s recommendations were plans to overhaul alumni activities, expand fundraising, raise faculty salaries, and reorganize administrative offices and operations. Included in the committee’s suggestions for administrative reorganization was the proposal to create the position of executive secretary, a role intended to serve as an assistant to the president. Smith became the first person to hold the position in the fall of 1920, and he spent the next several years attempting to implement many of the committee’s recommendations.

Smith’s relationship with Princeton became strained after he differed with administration’s handling of the Philadelphian Society, a campus religious group that fell under the influence of the controversial Frank N. D. Buchman. The basic tenants of Buchmanism preached living a life free of sin while setting aside time each day for quiet reflection in which one searched for divine guidance. However, the Buchmanites tended to be aggressive in their tactics when they evangelized to those they considered sinners. After Buchmanism caused a small national stir in the mid-1920s, President Hibben ordered an investigation of the Philadelphian Society on campus. Hibben concluded that the Philadelphian Society was distracting students from their studies and recommended that the Society’s campus activities be scaled back. Smith disagreed, was sympathetic toward Buchman, and felt that President Hibben did not take Buchman’s criticism of the University seriously enough. Smith converted to Buchmanism shortly after the controversy. He was a deeply religious person and remained in correspondence with Buchman and other followers of the movement throughout his life.

Smith ultimately resigned from his executive secretary position as a result from his dispute with President Hibben but remained at Princeton. In the fall of 1928, he began a new position as a lecturer in the department of politics. Smith’s courses focused on international relations and United States foreign policy. However, Smith quickly became disillusioned with the secular direction of Princeton and teaching and left the university in 1930.

After resigning from his position at Princeton, Smith continued to live in town as he began practicing law in New York City. Though Smith worked part-time for the firm of Dominick and Dominick, he spent much of the next decade focusing on the New Jersey Republican Party. In 1933, Smith helped form the New Jersey Republican Policy Council, which aimed to organize many of the small, local Republican clubs to promote the party within the state. The council lasted only a year, forced to disband due to lack of interest and funding. Though the Policy Council had failed, Smith did succeed in making a name for himself within the New Jersey Republican Party. In 1934, Smith was offered the position of treasurer of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, which functioned as the chief fund raiser for the state party.

During Smith’s tenure as treasurer, the state party underwent a bitter split. Smith’s reputation as a bipartisan mediator helped him get elected as chairman of the Republican State Committee. Smith was seen as a safe, non-offensive pick that could help reunite the state party. Though Smith was only moderately successful in mending the split in the party, he had positioned himself for to run for elected office. The death of Senator H. Warren Barbour in November of 1943 left one of New Jersey’s seats vacant. Smith politicked hard and sought to win broad party support. His bridge-building and hard work paid off – in 1944 he was elected to the United States Senate to serve the remaining two years of Barbour’s term.

As a freshman senator, Smith was assigned to the committees of Education and Labor, District of Columbia, Judiciary, Privileges and Elections, and Public Buildings and Grounds. He was transferred from the Judiciary Committee to the Military Affairs Committee in 1945. Though much of Smith’s time as a freshman senator was spent in becoming acclimated to his new position, he did involve himself in the debate over the Reciprocal Trade Act. Smith broke with the majority of the Republican Party and supported the Reciprocal Trade Act and lower tariffs.

Smith won re-election in 1946 and spent much of 1946 and early 1947 focusing on labor/management relations. Smith often sided with management on issues of strike and wages and ultimately supported the renewal of the Taft-Hartley Act. After re-election, Smith left all committees but the Education and Labor and was chosen to fill one of the three vacant Republican seats on the Foreign Relations Committee. An appointment on the Foreign Relations Committee was a career milestone for Smith, as foreign policy was Smith’s primary interest. As a result, Smith devoted most of his time to the committee.

Always a staunch anti-Communist, Smith was a strong supporter of the Voice of America radio station, which was established during World War II to broadcast programming favorable to American policy across Europe. Late in 1947, Smith toured Europe in order to build a case for Voice of America. When he returned to the U.S., he wrote a report that helped win support for the Smith-Mundt Bill, passed in 1948, which reorganized and provided funding for Voice of America.

Throughout 1948 and 1949, Smith continued his fight against Communism, turning his attention to Far East Asia and the Chinese Civil War. In September of 1948, Smith visited Japan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines with the goal of determining the ability of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. The trip convinced Smith that a Communist China and Taiwan would offer a global threat. When he returned, he urged the Congress to support the Nationalists. Smith had positioned himself as a follower of the policy of containment and remained committed to idea that the U.S. and U.N. should not recognize Communist China. After the Communists sized control of China and Taiwan, Smith turned his attention to Korea. He strongly supported the Korean War and disagreed with President Truman’s dismissal of General MacArthur. In 1953, Smith toured Korea and Indo-China which resulted in Smith turning his attention to the conflict which would ultimately become the Vietnam War. Again, Smith believed strongly the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia could prevent additional countries from falling into the Communist sphere.

Stateside, Smith spent 1951 and 1952 campaigning for re-election. He backed Dwight Eisenhower for president and won re-election to the Senate in 1952. His third term saw a continued interest in Taft-Hartley and labor/management relations. Smith also focused on transportation projects and amnesty cases for his New Jersey constituency. In 1954, Smith voted to censure Senate Joseph McCarthy. Though he generally supported McCarthy’s goals, he disagreed strongly with his approach.

In late-1957, Smith’s wife fell ill which prompted Smith to withdraw his name for re-election in 1958. He officially left the Senate on January 3, 1959. Shortly after leaving the Senate, John Foster Dulles offered Smith the position of Special Consultant on Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State. With his wife in better health, Smith accepted the position wanting to remain active in U.S. foreign policy matters. Smith’s job was to offer his opinion and recommendations directly to Dulles. A significant moment during Smith’s tenure as special consultant came when he undertook a friendly, diplomatic trip across Asia and reported his findings to Dulles.

Smith officially retired to his home in Princeton in 1960. He remained in constant contact with former colleagues in New Jersey and Washington, often offering opinions and advice. He also continued his interest in Princeton University and his Class of 1901. He died on October 27th, 1966.

Source: From the finding aid for MC120


  • Lawyers..
  • Senators..
  • H. Alexander Smith Papers. 1897-1966 (inclusive), 1920-1966 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC120

    H. Alexander Smith served as the executive secretary of Princeton University and was later elected to the United States Senate representing New Jersey. Smith made contributions to United States foreign policy while serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bulk of documentation focuses on his tenure in the Senate and the period immediately after his retirement; reports, correspondence, and printed material from his work at Princeton are also included. The papers contain diaries, correspondence, speeches, notes, photographs, and memorabilia.