The University of North Carolina has to date
catalogued about 20 botanical specimens collected by Ellison A. Smyth, Jr.
Most were collected in the environs of Columbia, South Carolina ca. 1890.
Ellison Adger Smyth, Jr.
date unknown, photograph courtesy of Virginia Tech
Smyth was a professor and founding head of
the Department of Biology (1891-1925), and first dean of the faculty
(1902-1906) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia. Smyth Hall, currently housing the
Department of Crop & Soil Environmental Science, is named in his honor
(1). He was primarily a zoologist, but
interested in all aspects of natural history. In 1892 Professor Smyth became the first
football coach at VPI (2).
Smyth, Jr. was born at Summerton, Clarendon County, South Carolina on October
26, 1863 to James Adger Smyth and Annie R.
Briggs. James Smyth was a cotton
merchant and two term mayor of Charleston.
his boyhood and youth, the proclivities and the interests which have marked
the professional work of Professor Smyth were early manifested. Birds and butterflies awakened a passionate
interest in him, when he was a very small boy. Fond of all out-of-door sports, and
especially boating and shooting, while a boy of fourteen he taught himself to
stuff and mount bird-skins. Passing
his boyhood in the city of Charleston, his summers were uniformly spent on
the sea-coast, at Sullivan’s Island, and on the old family plantation in
Clarendon county. While attending
school regularly, his father believed in training every child to undertake
some regular duties which involved manual labor; and the son recognizes his
lifelong debt to the training in the use of his own hands which was thus given
him early in life.
Princeton college in 1880, he was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of
Arts in 1884. The next winter, he
passed in study at Columbia college in New York city. In 1887 he attended the summer law school
of the University of Virginia. In 1890
he was engaged in work in the biological laboratory at Woods Holl [sic], Massachusetts.
he became a clerk in the law firm of Smyth and Lee, at Charleston, South
Carolina; but his four years’ excursion into the study of and practice of law
was undertaken only for family reasons.
Love of biology was already too strong to be resisted. As a boy of ten years, he had begun
collections of his own in the study of insects and of birds; and in 1888,
then a partner in the above named law firm, he definitely left the law to
take up his life’s work in biology the innate love for which had been
stimulated by the friendship of such older men of science as Dr. Gibbes and Dr. G. E. Manigault,
1889, he was made adjunct professor of biology in the University of South
Carolina; in 1891 he resigned that position to become professor of biology in
the Virginia Polytechnic institute at Blacksburg, Virginia – a chair which he
has filled for the last fifteen years.
During the absence of the president in the academic year, 1905 to
1906, Professor Smyth shared with Professor T.P. Campbell the duties of the
Smyth is the author of various articles in the “Entomological News”; of
bulletins on the economic relations of birds of prey, and on grasses, etc;
and on birds and bird life.
has discovered and named two new species of butterflies and moths, and he has
determined by breeding experiments the identity of three species of moths,
hitherto considered distinct; and this work of Professor Smyth’s has been
recognized in Europe.
received the degree of A.M. from Princeton university in 1887; and in June,
1906 the University of Alabama conferred upon Professor Smith the honorary
degree of LL.D. He is a member of the
New York Entomological society, one of the original members of the Entomological
Society of America, and an associate of the Ornithological union.
Miss Grace Allan, daughter of James Allan of Charleston, South Carolina on
the 29th of December 1897.
They have three children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom are
living in 1907.
his religious convictions, Professor Smyth is an elder in the Presbyterian
church at Blacksburg and says, “I have always been a Presbyterian, as were my
Scotch-Irish ancestors before me.” He
is a Democrat. He finds his favorite
forms of amusement and exercise on the salt water, in boating, sailing and
fishing; and in collecting, observing, and studying birds, insects and marine
life, in forest, field and on the shore; and in sketching and painting, as
well as in music. (3)
Professor Smyth’s son, also named Ellison Adger Smyth
(1903- 12 March 1998), became a Presbyterian minister and married Mary Linda Vardell (b.? – d. 1 April 1998). Mary Linda Vardell
earned a M.A. under Dr. William Chambers Coker at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1933
with her thesis, “Seed development in Spigelia marilandica.”
After marrying Ellison Smyth, Mary Linda Vardell
Smyth worked in the Herbarium at VPI for many years.
PUBLICATIONS (incomplete list)
Smyth, Ellison A., Jr. (1893) Capture of the
Black-capped Petrel inland in Virginia.
The Auk 10(4): 361-362.
-- (1902) Franklin's
Gull in the Virginia mountains. The
Auk 19(1): 74-75.
-- (1906) Bachman's
Finch in Montgomery County, Virginia.
The Auk 23(3): 341.
-- (1907) The
Goshawk in Montgomery Co., Virginia. The Auk 24(2): 214.
-- (1908) An
unusual Graffian Follicle. Biological Bulletin 14(5): 319-320.
-- (1908) Nelson's
Finch in the mountains of Virginia.
The Auk 25(4): 475-476.
-- (1912) Birds
observed in Montgomery County, Virginia.
The Auk 29(4): 508-530.
-- (1924) As
students understand it. Science, New
Series 60(1548): 200-201.
-- (1925) White-crowned
Sparrow in Montgomery Co., Virginia in January. The Auk 42(2): 275.
-- (1927) Additional
notes on the birds of Montgomery Co., Virginia. The Auk 44(1): 44-46.
-- (1939) Swallow-tailed
Kite in Roanoke County, Virginia. The
Auk 56(1): 75.
3. “Ellison Adger Smyth, Jr.”
pp. 367-369 in Men of Mark in Virginia:
Ideals of American Life, A Collection of
Biographies of the Leading Men in the State, Volume IV. Editor in Chief Lyon G. Tyler. Washington, DC: Men of Mark Publishing Company, 1908.