Henry A. Smith

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Henry A. Smith

Henry Arthur Smith was a dermatologist and Theosophist who served as the President of the Theosophical Society in America from 1960-1965.

Early years and education

On November 21,1898, Dr. Smith was born under the name Heinrich Schmidt in a community of Swiss-Russian Mennonite immigrants near Freeman, South Dakota.[1] He and his childhood friend, artist Henry Schwartz, moved to the Chicago area. Smith was educated at Joliet Jr. College, Chicago Collegiate Institute, Lewis Institute, (later Illinois Institute of Technology), and the University of Chicago, where he belonged to an honorary freshmen fraternity called the "Three-Quarters Club." He was also a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity.[2] He received his M.D. degree at the Chicago Medical School in 1932.[3]

Smith joined the Theosophical Society on July 1, 1919 in Chicago. His wife Gladys Gene Kiligreen was born May 8, 1903 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She became a member of the Society on July 3, 1929. Their son Lawrence (May 9, 1924 - July 22, 2005) was also active in the Society, admitted on March 1, 1946.

Medical practice

Dr. Smith practiced medicine in Chicago. He was on the faculty of the Chicago Medical School as an assistant professor of dermatology, and also served as chairman of its Board of Trustees. He was a member of the American Medical Association and several state and city medical organizations. For many years he chaired the Department of Dermatology at the Illinois-Masonic Hospital.[4]

Involvement with Liberal Catholic Church

Dr. Smith became active in the Liberal Catholic Church, and Gene also became a member in 1926. The Smiths were instrumental in purchase of the church building for the Church of St. Francis in Chicago. On May 11, 1937, at the age of 40, Dr. Smith received all minor orders and the sub deaconate from Bishop Edmund Sheehan. Just six months later, on November 24, 1937, he was raised to the deaconate. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Hampton on November 12, 1939. Gene was the church Treasurer from 1935 to 1960 and led the Round Table, an organization for children. Their son Lawrence became a priest in 1959, and a bishop in 1982 Rev. Dr. Henry Smith’s last official service as rector of St. Francis was on June 26, 1960, just before he took on the Presidency of the Theosophical Society.[5]

Gene and Henry Smith in April 1948 at Olcott.

Theosophical work

In 1924 the Smiths and Schwartzes helped to found the Oak Park Lodge, where they were all active for many years. Dr. Smith served as lodge president from 1924-1930 and 1932-1936.[6] It was a very energetic group, with many classes, social activities and public lectures. He was also active with the Chicago District Federation, the Theosophical society in Chicago, and the Akbar Lodge of Chicago.[7]

By the time he ran for President in 1960, Dr. Smith was 63 and had been a member of the TSA for over 40 years. He had been active as a leader and lecturer, travelling widely across the United States to address Theosophical audiences. In 1951 he was elected to serve on the national Board of Directors, and three years later he became Vice President in the Perkins administration. National lecturer E. Norman Pearson was nominated for the presidency, but Smith won with a strong endorsement from his predecessor. After being elected President, Dr. Smith mostly retired from his medical practice to devote more energy to the Society. Joy Mills was elected as Vice President in his administration, and Board members were J. Robert Branning of Savannah, Georgia, superintendent of the Bethesda Home for Boys; Irene S. Durham of Seattle, Washington, retired from being Chief of the Crime Prevention Division of the Seattle Police Department; Emil H. Heintz of Altadena, California, a manager in Magnus Chemical Company; Dora van Gelder Kunz of New York City; and Samuel H. Wylie of Ann Arbor, Michigan.[8]

Gene and Henry Smith with Kathrine Perkins, 1960 at Olcott.

Term as President of Theosophical Society in America

In July 1960 Dr. Smith was installed in his new office. At this point he was semi-retired from his medical practice. His health was never robust, and he was frequently ill; nonetheless he accomplished a great deal in his few years as President.[9] His administration undertook the major project of expanding the national library, using funds from a bequest. Architectural design was completed by Milwaukee Theosophists Lillian and Wilbur Leenhouts. Groundbreaking took place in May 1962, and Portland member George Linton supervised construction. The project involved “excavating under the existing library to provide additional space for the stock of the Theosophical Press, extending the library to the south for much-needed shelf-space for the growing collection of books, and adding a second floor to provide three conference rooms for reference books.”[10]

Another innovation of the Smith era was establishment of the Membership Endowment Plan. "Members desiring to endow their membership for life would pay $300, either as a lump sum or installments. This money would be placed with the [Theosophical] Investment Trust as a permanent endowment fund, the interest from which would take care of dues for the member’s lifetime and continue as a source of income after the member’s death."[11]

Dr. Smith toured the Section, lecturing and determining the needs of members, and this led to other accomplishments:

  • "Special Issues" were introduced in the The American Theosophist to explore particular subjects in depth. The first special issue, in November 1961, was devoted to "Aspects of Consciousness."
  • An "Institute of Theosophy" was instituted as a pilot program, mainly for staff members.
  • A committee was established to review and edit publicity literature.
  • Monthly letters to new members were developed by Virginia Hanson, who joined the staff in spring, 1962.
  • National conferences were held in San Francisco, Washington, New York, Miami, Atlanta, and Seattle.[12]
  • National by-laws were refined to clarify residency of Board Members, the role of Vice President, and recognition of federations.
  • Education programs were coordinated with the Krotona Institute of Theosophy under Laurence and Phoebe Bendit.
  • The TSA participated in an Inter-American Theosophical Conference was held in Mexico City in November 1963.[13]
  • Portraits of Founders Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott and William Quan Judge were installed in the main hallway of the L. W. Rogers Building in 1960.

Dr. Smith supported the "Temple of Understanding," a global multifaith initiative that was endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Dalai Lama, Nehru, Anwar Sadat, Mother Teresa, U Thant, John D. Rockefeller IV, Robert McNamara , Father Thomas Merton, Albert Schweitzer, and numerous other leaders and celebrities.[14]

Mrs. Smith served in many capacities for the Theosophical Society. While living at the Olcott campus, she managed the kitchen, supervising the feeding of a staff of 30, plus visitors.

Problems arose in Dr. Smith’s personal life, with the President being absent from headquarters for long periods of time. The Board stepped in to manage Society affairs, and relations became tense. The National Judiciary Committee and Board offered Dr. Smith three alternatives, and he ultimately chose to take a leave of absence for the remainder of his term in office. Joy Mills stepped in as acting President.[15]

Later years

Henry and Gene divorced, and he married Mrs. Joanna Guthrie of the Akron, Ohio Lodge on May 12, 1964. The wedding took place at his house on the Olcott campus.[16]

Gene Smith moved to Ojai, California that year to live at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy. She became a member of the board for the Institute, and for some years was also president of the Theosophical Book Association for the Blind. She remained active in the Liberal Catholic Church, managing the St. Alban Press; volunteering at Our Lady and All Angels Church in Ojai; and serving on the Boards of Rogers-Cooper Memorial Foundation and the LCC in the Province of the USA.[17]

Dr. Smith was married to Joanna Guthrie until 1971.[18] He continued to live in Wheaton, but was in poor health.[19] He reconciled with his former coworkers at the TSA headquarters, and later moved to Ojai, joining Gene in remarriage on March 5, 1972.[20] He passed away on September 10, 1979. When Gene died at the age of 97 on May 29, 2000, she was survived by a son, two granddaughters, one great-grandson; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Boris de Zirkoff wrote a moving testimonial:

Dr. Henry A. Smith was for years one of the finest figures in the T. S. in America, a man of great courage, and of intense devotion to Theosophy and of unfailing kindness to anyone and sundry. Opposed by some, accused by others, he worked for good will among all Theosophists, irrespective of their affiliation or of none. He looked ahead to a unified Movement...

If Henry Smith made any mistakes, he is in the company of all of us... Henry Smith may well be remembered for his forthright actions, his quiet demeanor and his spirit of universality...[21]

Dara Eklund, compiler of Echoes of the Orient, the complete works of William Quan Judge, dedicated the second volume of her work: "To Dr. Henry A. Smith who passed away as this work embodying the teachings of one of his favorite Theosophists, was being set up."


Henry Smith did not write any books, but the Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 34 articles by or about him.

Additional resources

  • Felix Layton letter to Lina Psaltis. June 19, 1965. Excerpt in Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America Archives. He quoted Dr. Smith on his encounters with clairvoyant people.


  1. U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current.
  2. "Three-Quarters Club," Cap and Gown yearbook. University of Chicago, 1920.
  3. "About the Candidates:Henry A. Smith," The American Theosophist 39.4 (April, 1951), 69.
  4. Press release, "on or before July 17" in 1960 issued by Miss Ann Kerr, National Secretary. Annual Conventions and Summer Sessions. Records Series 10.08. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  5. "The Passing of Lawrence J. Smith to the Higher Realm," The Liberal Catholic 72.2-3 (Christmas 2005), 31.
  6. "Theosophical Society Is Now in New Home in Village"in undated local newspaper. Schwartz Family Collection. Records Series 25.15. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  7. "About the Candidates:Henry A. Smith," The American Theosophist 39.4 (April, 1951), 69.
  8. Press release, "on or before July 17" in 1960 issued by Ann Kerr, National Secretary. Annual Conventions and Summer Sessions. Records Series 10.08. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  9. Dora Kunz, "In Memoria," The American Theosophist 67.12 (December, 1979), 380.
  10. Joy Mills, 100 Years of Theosophy: A History of the Theosophical Society in America (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 154.
  11. Mills, 154.
  12. Dora Kunz, "In Memoria," The American Theosophist 67.12 (December, 1979), 380.
  13. Mills, 154-157.
  14. Temple of Understanding [http://templeofunderstanding.org/ website.
  15. Mills, 157-158.
  16. "News and Notes," The American Theosophist52.7 (July, 1964), 160.
  17. "Gladys Gene Smith" obituary at Genealogybuff.com.
  18. Membership records. Microfilm reel #6, Blue Series. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  19. Dora Kunz, "In Memoria," The American Theosophist 67.12 (December, 1979), 380.
  20. "Statistics," The American Theosophist 60.4 (April, 1972), 87.
  21. Boris de Zirkoff letter to The American Theosophist. October 13, 1979. Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America Archives.