UHV history professor departs after nearly 4 decades
Aug. 13, 2013 at 3:13 a.m.
For a long time, Harold "Hal" Smith was the history department at the University of Houston-Victoria.
The professor, who devoted a lifetime of research, writing and instruction to the role of women in social change, is retiring after 37 years.
"Smith built the history department with all his heart and soul," said Beverly Tomek, 42, assistant professor of history at UHV, who was Smith's student in the mid-1990s. "For so many years, he taught all the classes."
The joke among students of Tomek's generation was that they earned their degrees in "Dr. Smith."
For almost four decades, Smith shared his groundbreaking work with many students in the Crossroads.
"He has high standards, and he challenges students to live up to them," Tomek said.
Smith's favorite class was gender studies.
"It was the class I was most responsible for," Smith said. "I proposed the course and persuaded the humanities faculty to add it to the core curriculum."
Gender studies was also Tomek's favorite class.
"He was very passionate and encouraged discussion and debate," Tomek said. "He made students think in ways they had never thought before, male and female."
Students in Tomek's The Violent Century course often touched on what they had learned in Smith's gender studies class.
"I could hear his voice in what they would say," she said.
Tomek said Smith is the biggest influence in her life, an adviser in perpetuum.
"I promised not to cry in front of him - not until he is in Colorado," she said.
Amy Hatmaker, 48, another of Smith's former students who works for UHV career services, called Smith a endless repository of knowledge.
"You could ask him about anything, and he would start with 'That is not my field' and proceed to offer amazing ideas, guidance and resources," Hatmaker said.
Smith is a prolific writer in addition to the four classes he taught each spring and fall semester for the first 25 years. Since 1999, he has taught his courses exclusively online.
"I didn't fish on the weekends," he said. "I researched in the library."
In the 1970s, Smith found his subject to champion when he taught courses in the Illinois Quad Cities.
He attended Equal Rights Amendment rallies in the pivotal state with a sign that read, "Quad Cities men for the ERA."
He was the only man there.
He was also the only Texan asking librarians for texts on British women during research trips to Great Britain.
Smith's most important books include research that had not yet published.
Before his work, scholars attributed social paradigm shifts to total wars rather than organized movements.
Smith rocked that boat.
Smith is most proud of his book, "The British Women's Suffrage Campaign," as well as two others about Texas women he co-authored with his wife.
The women's suffrage campaign was the most important movement of the 20th century, he said.
A woman's right to vote was a weapon used later in both the United States and Britain to increase gender equality and change society, he said.
In 1918, partial women's suffrage rights passed in Parliament.
While the voting age for men was 21, women had to be at least 30 years old to vote. Additionally, their husbands had to be eligible to vote in local elections.
Scholars argued that the victory for women was a reward for their work during World War II.
Smith pointed out that most women who worked in munitions factories were under the age of 25 and therefore would not benefit from the victory.
He argued that strides were made because women organized.
Smith's books delve into the differences between the peaceful suffragist and rebellious suffragette movements. Also explored are the differences between early 20th century women's rights advocates who fought for equal rights versus those who fought for rights based on sexual differences.
With the British archives as his primary source, Smith studied British women.
"British Feminism in the Twentieth Century," which Smith edited, has been required reading at the University of Cambridge in England since the early 1990s when it published. His book, "Britain in the Second World War," has been required reading at the University of Oxford since the mid-1990s when it published.
For Smith, the only woman more important than British, American and Texan historical activists is his wife, Judith McArthur, a former UHV adjunct professor.
She provided more than the obvious turning point in his life when they married in 1992. She is a scholar of Texas women's history, and they began discussing the differences between British and Texas women. Ultimately, they produced two award-winning books together.
"Too frequently, you hear that married academicians who co-author books divorce a year later," Smith said. "That did not happen to us."
The couple is moving to Fort Collins, Colo., this month. They intend to enjoy the dry mountain air and music scene while they explore a project on a 20th-century Denver couple influential in gender history. Smith also plans to continue teaching UHV classes online part time.
"It's scary to lose his institutional memory," Tomek said.
Smith provided a guiding presence for the university.
"Personally, I will miss hearing him walk by my office, having him down the hall to help fix problems and hearing him laugh," Tomek said.
Smith won the UHV Teaching Excellence Award twice.
Teaching involves intelligent stimulation for both students and professors if done right, Smith said.