Skip to main content
Winter Park Library Archive

Rhea Marsh Smith

Husband. Professor - His marriage and career both spanned five decades. 

Rhea Marsh Smith was born on April 19th, 1907 in Celina, Texas. He was educated at Southern Methodist University (B.A.), Princeton University (M.A.), and at the University of Pennsylvania (PhD.). After he completed his studies, he taught for a short time at both SMU and the University of Texas before coming to Florida. In 1930, he was called to teach at Rollins by Hamilton Holt, long-time president at Rollins College. He specialized in Hispanic-American history.

In 1932, he met his future wife when she came to Winter Park to assist her friend, actress Annie Russell, with the opening of the Annie Russell Theater, which was situated on the Rollins’ campus. Dorothy Lockhart had only been in town for three days before she made his acquaintance. She later described him as “one of those many young men who sat at the feet of Miss Russell.” She added that he was “a delightful creature.” The Annie Russell Theater opened on March 29th, 1932, and the Smiths were married that May.

Professor Smith continued to teach at Rollins until his retirement in 1972, his tenure interrupted only once, due to the outbreak of World War II. At that time, he was called to Washington D.C. where he served the armed forces from 1942-1945 as a military instructor. In 1945 & 1946, he served as an instructor of history and historian on special staff for the Biarritz American University in France.

After returning to Rollins after the war, he held a few additional positions at the school: Acting Dean of the College and Assistant to the President. Over the years, he traveled to Spain and Portugal, continued his research, and authored books about Spanish and American history. He even did some acting! It has been suggested that it was his wife that persuaded him to appear in the following productions: There’s Always Juliet, Hedda Gabler, Thirteenth Chair, Candle-Light, In Times of Passion, and Private Lives.

During his tenure at Rollins College, he was the recipient of the following honors: The Cervantes Medal, Rollins Decoration of Honor, and the Holt Medal.

Upon his retirement in 1972, the Rollins College Board of Trustees elevated him to the status of Professor Emeritus of History. But even after retirement, Dr. Smith was never a stranger at Rollins, as he kept active by continuing his research . . . he was a frequent visitor at the Rollins College Archives and Libraries.

Rhea Marsh Smith died in Winter Park on Saturday, November 2nd, 1991.

Memorial services were held at Knowles Memorial Chapel on Monday, November 4th, 1991. Knowles Memorial Chapel is situated on the campus of Rollins College . . . right next to the Annie Russell Theater.

Rhea Marsh Smith’s passion for history led him to leave a generous bequest to both Rollins College and the Winter Park Public Library. Here at the library, the endowment supports the Winter Park History Collection & Archives, preservation supplies for the materials in the collection, the archivist position, and the Winter Park History Research Contest.

This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.