Reed Smoot letter to his wife Alpha May Smoot, September 19, 1927

Alpha “Allie” May Smoot, Courtesy L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University

To some I have spoken with over the years, Reed Smoot is considered somewhat of a lifeless figure, a “dead-fish,” as it were. When reading Smoot’s matter-of-fact journals, it’s not a completely off-base conclusion to arrive at. Smoot was both a brilliant business mind and a thoughtful policy wonk, known for his fierce work ethic and ability to master hundreds of facts related to fiscal or economic legislation. This was his calling card over a 30-year career in the US Senate. Smoot was a “numbers guy,” so to speak, in contemporary parlance.

Smoot’s journals are chocked full of dry references to technical details related to business transactions or legislative activities, though it has much transactional information about his other ecclesiastical or recreational endeavors. Not surprisingly, Harvard Heath’s book “In the World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot,” is my favorite of Signature Books’s significant diary series–I highly recommend it. This book, which originally was Heath’s BYU dissertation, created an abridgment with annotations of Smoot’s hand written diaries while serving as a US Senator. Heath’s dissertation also includes several fascinating background chapters on Smoot’s life, one of which was published on the Smoot hearings in the Journal of Mormon History back in 2007. I should note that Smoot’s diaries during the Smoot hearings are missing, but that is a topic for another day…

I read Heath’s entire BYU dissertation of Smoot’s diaries several years ago, and my impression was that Smoot did not commonly use his journals for introspection, nor as a place to confide/emote. However, Smoot does mention times when he is in physical pain, or situations where he was encountering mental anguish stemming from failed business transactions, many of which were the result of poor decisions made by his children. Harvard Heath explains that “Although the content of the diaries is at times less than scintillating, they represent a consistent effort to record the significant and the personal as well as the diurnal affairs of a man who felt that what he was about and what the thought would be of some value to himself, his family, and perhaps later, a wider audience of interested parties who would vicariously relive this most dynamic and important period of history.” [Harvard Heath, “Reed Smoot: The first Modern Mormon,” (unpublished Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1990) p. 198]

On the other hand, Smoot’s letters to wife, close friends, and President Joseph F. Smith were more colorful and revelatory of the inner Smoot. One such letter, written in 1927, was sent by Reed his wife on their anniversary. His wife, Alpha Mae Smoot “Allie,” at the time was terminally ill and a year shy of death. Smoot’s hand written missive is touching and reflective, filled with admiration and emotion for his dying wife Allie. Historically speaking, Allie has largely been in the shadow of the Senator, though Konden Smith and I are in the process of editing an essay on Allie’s experience during the Smoot hearings, written by a Smoot great-granddaughter Kathryn Egan, and scheduled to be published in our forthcoming book on the Smoot hearings by the University of Utah Press.

At the time of this letter, Allie was 64 years old and Reed was 65. Allie would pass away the next year in November of 1928. This letter is housed at BYU’s Special Collections in the Smoot papers, and I obtained a photo copy of it last week while inUtah. The following is an abridgment of the letter.

My Dear Allie … You must remember the day we were married what a delightful walk we had in the evening around the streets of Logan and the high hopes we had of a happy and successful life and what we were going to do and how it was to be accomplished. Allie dear has it all been realized and now that forty three years have passed are you satisfied? As far as my Allie is concerned I am more than satisfied for she has not only done her part but carried a part of my own load. God bless my Allie forever. You remember the morning of September 18th we had to be at the train at 3 oclock in the morning. How cold it was in the old barn of a hotel and how it was snowing but we did not mind all these inconveniences for our dreams had come true, we were husband and wife for ever and had resolved the night before in our stroll about the town that our love should never die. …

No man has ever had a better wife and helpmate. The greatest sorrow I have been called upon to bear has been your illness and sufferings. Few women could have stood what you have passed through but God has been with you and will continue to be. It is just as hard for me to be away from you now as it has ever been since we became lovers. I send love and kisses to my own dear Allie.  Yours Reed


Reed Smoot letter to his wife Alpha May Smoot, September 19, 1927 — 2 Comments

  1. This is a great post Mike. I agree with your assessment of Smoot on every level. I have become quite hesitant to judge people and their character too quickly. I know when I first started reading Mormon history, Smoot was one of the bad guys. He was the guy that destroyed John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley’s apostolic careers. Oh how young and naive I was, and how wrong. Life is much more complicated than this. Though I disagree with Smoot’s politics, I find him to be a good and decent person. One who lived his life the best he could and one who followed his moral compass even when his Church often said other wise. The letter to Allie is a pure piece of gold.