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Smith, Addie Viola (1893–1975)

by Heather Barker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Addie Viola Smith (1893-1975), solicitor and trade commissioner, was born on 14 November 1893 at Stockton, California, United States of America, daughter of Rufus Roy Smith, publisher, and his wife Addie Gabriela, née Brown. Viola qualified in business administration at Heald's Business College, San Francisco, in 1908. Employed (from 1910) by a large merchandising firm in California, she moved to the United States Department of Labor, Washington, D.C., in 1917 and studied part time at the Washington College of Law, American University (LL.B., 1920). In October 1920 she was the first woman to join the U.S. Foreign Service, being appointed as clerk to the trade commissioner in Peking (Beijing). Promoted to assistant trade commissioner at Shanghai in 1922 and to trade commissioner in 1928, she was also registrar of the China Trade Act (1922). In 1934 Smith was admitted to practise in the U.S. Court for China. She was American consul and secretary at Shanghai from 1939.

In 1926 Smith had met Eleanor Hinder, who had come to China as industrial secretary of the Young Women's Christian Association. They worked together to re-form the Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Organizations, and ran its campaign against the use of child labour in foreign-owned silk mills and match factories at Shanghai. Continuing to live and work in that city until 1941, they became devoted to each other, shared a house, and created a garden.

Back in Washington, Miss Smith worked (1942-43) as a China economic specialist for the American government. From 1944 to 1945 she represented the China-America Council of Commerce and Industry in Washington. She returned to China in 1946 to establish its headquarters at Shanghai. Eleanor, who had been repatriated in 1942, joined her there. Based in Bangkok in 1949-51, Smith inaugurated and directed the trade promotion division of the secretariat for the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. At the U.N. in New York, she represented the International Federation of Women Lawyers in 1952-64 and was a member of the I.F.W.L.'s executive-committee.

Following Hinder's failure to gain permanent entry to the United States, she and Smith acquired the top floor of her niece's house at Neutral Bay, Sydney, in the mid-1950s. They lived mainly in New York until 1959, continued to travel frequently (often on U.N. business) and attended conferences. Eleanor's relations, especially her sister Marie Farquharson, welcomed Viola as a member of the family. After Eleanor died in April 1963, Viola acted as executrix of her estate. A member of the Royal Australian Historical Society, she continued to research the Hinder genealogy. She also arranged and annotated her friend's papers, and deposited them in the Mitchell Library.

A long-time member of the League of Women Voters, Sydney, Smith was vice-president (1968-70) of the Australian Local Government Women's Association. In 1975 she published Women in Australian Parliaments and Local Governments, Past and Present. She died on 13 December that year at Mosman and was cremated. Her friends placed two stone seats in the E. G. Waterhouse National Camellia Gardens, Carlingford, as a memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • New York Times, 5 Nov 1920, 23 Feb 1930, 18 Oct 1937, 23 Feb 1946
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 22 Mar 1929, 26 Nov 1940, 5 Apr 1977
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 19 Aug 1962
  • Hinder papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • immigration files, SP606/2, item 56/34960, SP908/1, item American/Smith A. V., SP1122/1, item N1958/60847 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Twelfth Census . . . 1900, San Joaquin, California, US, vol 108, ED 112, p 3 (National Archives, Washington DC).

Citation details

Heather Barker, 'Smith, Addie Viola (1893–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-addie-viola-11717/text20945, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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