Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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January 16, 2014

Mary Byers Smith: A pioneering storyteller at heart

Mary Byers Smith (1885-1983) has been described as “a fascinating storyteller and historian” and “an early leader in the women’s movement.”

According to the authors of “Red Cloak for Mother, History of Smith Family in Andover,” her impact on her home and her community is “remembered and revered.”

The second youngest of nine children born to Joseph Smith and Fannie Smart Donald Smith, Smith was the granddaughter of John Smith, co-founder of Smith and Dove Flax Manufacturers in Andover. Her many accomplishments complemented her long life of 97 years.

In the 1920s, she became the first woman elected to the Andover School Committee. She was also trustee of Memorial Hall Library and of the Free Church, where she was a lifetime member.

After graduating from Abbot Academy in Andover, Smith was one of four out of 23 who went on to attend college. In a 1972 interview recorded by Jacqueline Van Voris for the College Centennial Study, Smith said she chose Smith College in Northampton because her friend also was going there.

Her family, she said, was not supportive. “My brothers thought the less you had, the better,” she said. Her uncle who was the rector of Trinity Church, “did not approve of college for women at all.”

But in spite of her family’s opinions, Smith immersed herself in the college culture. Although she had to miss a year because of illness, Smith was elected president of her class of 1908. She developed a longtime interest in her alma mater, serving as trustee and director of the alumni association.

In 1916, Smith co-founded Hampshire Bookshop in Northampton along with fellow Smith graduate Marion Dodd. The bookshop, staffed as well as owned by women, hosted lectures and discussions with authors, including Robert Frost.

Giving up the chance to pursue a career in bookbinding, Smith, who never married, moved back to Andover to help take care of her parents. She began a “professional” volunteer career in social services, which she continued well into her 80s.

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