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Howard Worth Smith (February 2, 1883—October 3, 1976), Democratic U.S. Congressman from Virginia, was a leader of the Conservative Coalition and an avid segregationist.

Early life and education

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

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

Congressional career

Howard W.
He was elected in 1930 to Congress. He initially supported New Deal measures such as the Tennessee Valley Authority Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act and authored the anti-Communist Smith Act in 1940.

A leader of the Conservative coalition, Smith led the opposition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Conservatives created a special House committee to investigate the NLRB, 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, due in part to the 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 Congress of Industrial Organizations not the AFL in organizing drives. New Dealers stopped the Smith amendments but Roosevelt gave way and replaced the CIO-oriented members on the NLRB with men acceptable to Smith and the AFL.

As chairman of the all-powerful United States House Committee on Rules after 1955, Smith controlled the flow of legislation in the House.

Opposition to civil rights legislation

An opponent of racial integration, Smith used his power as Rules Committee chairman to keep much civil rights legislation from even 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 some success, but Smith's close ties to other southern Democrats kept him in power.

Smith held up the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of Rayburn's reforms was the "Twenty-One Day Rule" requiring 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" thereby adding gender as a protected class of Title VII of the Act. One of Smith's opponents denied that he was trying to help women at all; Representative Carl Elliott of Alabama, later claimed,
"Smith didn't give a damn about women's rights...he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn't favor women's rights.".

The Congressional Record has Smith, when introducing the amendment, creating laughter in the chambers while reading a letter from "a lady." However, the Record also demonstrates, during arguments for a second vote on the amendment, more serious arguments from Smith, voicing concerns that white women would suffer greater discrimination without a protection for gender.

Due to his close association with feminist leader Alice Paul, Smith may have supported equal rights for women since the 1920s. Congresswoman Martha Griffiths, a liberal feminist from Michigan, actively supported Smith's amendment of including "sex" in Title VII. Smith preferred to have no Civil Rights Act but preferred one that outlawed sexual discrimination than one without.

Post-congressional career

In 1966, Smith was defeated for renomination by a more liberal Democrat, State Delegate George Rawlings. Rawlings was in turn soundly defeated by Republican William L. Scott. Smith resumed the practice of law in Alexandria, where he died at age 93 on October 3, 1976. He was interred in Georgetown Cemetery, Broad Run, Virginia.

1995 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.
"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,"
said Georgiamarker Congressman John Lewis.

Solomon said he displayed the portrait as a way of acknowledging Smith's cooperative work with Republicans when he was chairman but that he was unaware of his segregationist background. The portrait was subsequently removed.


  1. Storrs p. 212
  2. Dierenfield p. 194
  3. Gold, 1981
  4. Freeman, 1991


  • Brauer, Carl M. "Women Activists, Southern Conservatives, and the Prohibition of Sex Discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act", 49 Journal of Southern History, February 1983 online via JSTOR
  • Dierenfield, Bruce J. Keeper of the Rules: Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia (1987)
  • Dierenfield , Bruce J. "Conservative Outrage: the Defeat in 1966 of Representative Howard W. Smith of Virginia." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1981 89 (2): 181-205.
  • Freeman, Jo. "How 'Sex' Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy," Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 1991, pp. 163-184. online version
  • Gold, Michael Evan. 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, 1981 [225079]
  • Jones, Charles O. "Joseph G. Cannon and Howard W. Smith: an Essay on the Limits of Leadership in the House of Representatives" Journal of Politics 1968 30(3): 617-646.
  • Robinson, Donald Allen. "Two Movements in Pursuit of Equal Employment Opportunity." Signs 1979 4(3): 413-433. on alliance between Smith and Griffiths.
  • Storrs, Landon R. Y. Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era University of North Carolina Press. 2000.
  • Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • The Political Graveyard

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