Howard W. Smith

Howard W. Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1931  January 3, 1967
At-large: March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1935
Preceded by R. Walton Moore
Succeeded by William L. Scott
Chairman of the House Committee on Rules
In office
January 3, 1955  January 3, 1967
Preceded by Leo E. Allen
Succeeded by William M. Colmer
Personal details
Born Howard Worth Smith
(1883-02-02)February 2, 1883
Broad Run, Virginia
Died October 3, 1976(1976-10-03) (aged 93)
Alexandria, Virginia
Resting place Little Georgetown Cemetery
Broad Run (Fauquier County)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lillian Proctor (m. 1913–19) d. flu pandemic
Ann Corcoran (m. 1923)
Children Howard Worth Smith, Jr. (d. 2003)
Violett (both by Lillian)
Alma mater University of Virginia (LL.B.)
Profession Attorney
Religion Episcopalian

Howard Worth Smith (February 2, 1883 October 3, 1976), Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia, was a leader of the powerful but informal conservative coalition who supported both racial segregation and women's rights.

Early life and education

Born in Broad Run, Virginia, on February 2, 1883, he attended public schools and graduated from Bethel Military Academy, Warrenton, Virginia, in 1901. He took his LLB at the law department of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1903, was admitted to the bar in 1904 and practiced in Alexandria, Virginia.

During World War I, he was assistant general counsel to the Federal Alien Property Custodian. From 1918 to 1922 he was Commonwealth's Attorney of Alexandria. He served as a judge 1922 to 1930 (he was often referred to as "Judge Smith" even while in Congress), and also engaged in banking, farming, and dairying.


He was elected in 1930 to the House of Representatives. He initially supported New Deal measures such as the Tennessee Valley Authority Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act. A leader of the conservative coalition, he led the opposition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), established by the Wagner Act of 1935. Conservatives created a special House committee to investigate the NLRB that was headed by Smith and dominated by opponents of the New Deal. The committee conducted a sensationalist investigation that undermined public support for the NLRB and, more broadly, for the New Deal. In June 1940, amendments proposed by the Smith Committee passed by a large margin in the House, partly because Smith's new alliance with William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor. The AFL was convinced the NLRB was controlled by leftists who supported the rival Congress of Industrial Organizations in organizing drives. New Dealers stopped the Smith amendments, but Roosevelt replaced the CIO-oriented members on the NLRB with men acceptable to Smith and the AFL.[3]

Smith proposed the anticommunist Alien Registration Act of 1940 18 U.S.C. § 2385, which became known as the Smith Act. It required resident aliens to register. It also banned advocating the overthrow of the US government or its political subdivisions. American Communist Party chairman Gus Hall was one of many communists later convicted of violating its provisions. The US Supreme Court ruled in Yates v. United States (1957) that the First Amendment protected much radical speech, which halted Smith Act prosecutions under the Act.

Opposition to civil rights

As chairman of the all-powerful United States House Committee on Rules after 1955, Smith controlled the flow of legislation in the House. An opponent of racial integration, Smith used his power as chairman of the Rules Committee to keep much civil rights legislation from coming to a vote on the House floor. When the Civil Rights Act of 1957 came before Smith's committee, Smith said, "The Southern people have never accepted the colored race as a race of people who had equal intelligence... as the white people of the South." Speaker Sam Rayburn tried to reduce his power in 1961, with only limited success.

Smith delayed passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of Rayburn's reforms was the "Twenty-One Day Rule" that required a bill to be sent to the floor within 21 days. Under pressure, Smith released the bill.

Two days before the vote, Smith offered an amendment to insert "sex" after the word "religion" as a protected class of Title VII of the Act. The Congressional Record shows Smith made serious arguments, voicing concerns that white women would suffer greater discrimination without a protection for gender.[4] Liberals, who knew Smith was hostile to civil rights for blacks, assumed that he was doing so to defeat the whole bill, but they were unaware of his long connection with white feminists.[5][6]

House Rules Committee clerk's record of markup session adding "sex" to bill.

In 1964, the burning national issue was civil rights for blacks. Liberals argued that it was "the Negro's hour" and that adding women's rights to the bill could hurt its chance of being passed. However, conservatives on race voted for the Smith amendment. The National Woman's Party (NWP) had used Smith to include sex as a protected category and so achieved their main goal.[7]

The prohibition of sex discrimination was added on the floor by Smith. While Smith was a conservative who strongly opposed civil rights laws for blacks, he supported such laws for women. Smith's amendment passed by a vote of 168 to 133.[6][8][9]

Smith expected that Republicans, who had included equal rights for women in their party's platform since 1940, would probably vote for the amendment. Some historians speculate that Smith in addition to helping women was trying to embarrass Northern Democrats, who opposed civil rights for women since labor unions opposed the clause.[4]

Smith insisted that he sincerely supported the amendment and along with Representative Martha Griffiths[10] was the chief spokeswoman for the amendment.[4] For 20 years, Smith had sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment, with no linkage to racial issues, in the House. He for decades had been close to the NWP and its leader, Alice Paul, one of the leaders in winning the vote for women in 1920 and the chief supporter of equal rights proposals since then. She and other feminists had worked with Smith since 1945 to try to find a way to include sex as a protected civil rights category.[11]

Griffiths argued that the new law would protect black women but not white women and so was unfair to white women. Furthermore, she argued that the laws "protecting" women from unpleasant jobs were actually designed to enable men to monopolize those jobs, which was unfair to women who were not allowed to try the jobs.[12] The amendment passed with the votes of Republicans and Southern Democrats. Republicans and Northern Democrats voted for the bill's final passage.

Smith had a part in temporarily blocking the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 because “Job Corps provision would allow coeducational and interracial job camps.”[13]


After U.S. Senator Carter Glass died in 1946, Smith sought the nomination to succeed him. The Byrd Organization, of which Smith was a member, instead nominated A. Willis Robertson, who was elected to the Senate.[2]

Smith was defeated in the 1966 primary by a considerably more liberal Democrat, State Delegate George Rawlings, Jr. after the 8th district was redistricted to include part of the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. Although Smith remained neutral in the general election, many of his supporters defected to Republican William L. Scott, who soundly defeated Rawlings in November.

Later life

Smith resumed the practice of law in Alexandria, where he died at 93 on October 3, 1976. He was interred in Georgetown Cemetery, Broad Run, Virginia.

Portrait controversy

In January 1995, the House Rules Committee chairman, Republican Congressman Gerald B. H. Solomon, had a portrait of Smith hung in the Committee hearing room. The Congressional Black Caucus requested that it be removed. Georgia Congressman John Lewis said:[14]

It is an affront to all of us ...[Smith is] perhaps best remembered for his obstruction in passing this country's civil rights laws. A man who in his own words never accepted the colored race as a race of people who had equal intelligence and education and social attainments as the White people of the South...

Solomon said he displayed the portrait to acknowledge Smith's co-operative work with Republicans when he was chairman but that he was unaware of his segregationist views. The portrait was later removed.[15]


Smith was portrayed by American actor Ken Jenkins in the 2016 HBO TV movie All the Way, in which his segregationist views posed as a central and divisive opposition to President Lyndon B. Johnson's proposal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


  1. Ticer, Patsy; Saslaw, Richard L.; Ebbin, Adam; Moran, Brian; Van Landingham, Marian (February 13, 2004). "SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 186 On the death of Howard Worth Smith, Jr.". Virginia General Assembly. Retrieved 2011-11-28.
  2. 1 2 Dierenfield, Bruce (7 April 2011). Brendan Wolfe, ed. "Smith, Howard Worth (18831976)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 2011-11-28.
  3. Storrs, p. 212.
  4. 1 2 3 Gold, Michael Evan (1 January 1981). "A Tale of Two Amendments: The Reasons Congress Added Sex to Title VII and Their Implication for the Issue of Comparable Worth". Faculty Publications — Collective Bargaining, Labor Law, and Labor History. Cornell. Retrieved 2011-11-28. from Duquesne Law Review.
  5. Clinton Jacob Woods, "Strange Bedfellows: Congressman Howard W. Smith and the Inclusion of Sex Discrimination in the 1964 Civil Rights Act," Southern Studies, 16 (Spring–Summer 2009), 1–32.
  6. 1 2 Freeman, Jo (March 1991). "How 'Sex' Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy". Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice. 9 (2): 163–184. online version.
  7. Harrison, Cynthia (1989). On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues, 1945-1968. Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 17879.
  8. Rosenberg, Rosalind (2008). Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century. pp. 187–188.
  9. Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. pp. 245–246, 249. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
  10. Olson, Lynne (2001). Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement. p. 360.
  11. Rosenberg (2008). p.187; notes that Smith had been working for years with two Virginia feminists on the issue.
  12. Harrison (1989. p.179
  13. Vinovskis, M. A. (2008). Preschool education policies in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (pp. 48). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  14. "CBC members get portrait removed from House Rules Committee meeting room - Congressional Black Caucus". Jet. February 13, 1995. Retrieved 2007-03-24.
  15. Rosenbaum, David E. (January 25, 1995). "Offending Portrait Succumbs To Black Lawmakers' Protest". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-28.

Further reading

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
R. Walton Moore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
District abolished
Himself after district re-established in 1935
Preceded by
District re-established
John S. Wise before district eliminated in 1885
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's at-large congressional seat

1933 1935
Succeeded by
District abolished
Preceded by
District re-established
Himself before district abolished in 1933
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
William L. Scott
Political offices
Preceded by
Leo E. Allen
Chairman of the United States House Committee on Rules
Succeeded by
William M. Colmer
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