James Monroe Smith
| James Monroe Smith, Sr.|
(President of Louisiana State University caught up in scandal)
|Born|| October 9, 1888 |
Jackson Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died|| June 6, 1949 (aged 60) |
Angola, West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
|Spouse|| Thelma Ford Smith (married 1914-1949, his death)|
James Monroe Smith, Sr. (October 9, 1888 – June 6, 1949), was during the 1930s the president of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was imprisoned for forgery, embezzlement, mail fraud, and income tax evasion in what is known as the Louisiana Hayride of 1939.
Smith was born near Jonesboro in rural Jackson Parish in north Louisiana to John Henry Smith and the former Mary Adney Sims. He was educated at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana, and at LSU, from which he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. He engaged in graduate studies in 1922 at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. In 1925, he received a Master of Arts from Columbia University Teachers College in New York City. In 1927, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia.
On July 3, 1914, Smith wed the former Thelma Ford, and the couple had two children, Marjorie Lee Smith (any married name unavailable) and James Monroe Smith, Jr. He taught in rural schools from 1908 to 1910. In 1911-1912, he served on the faculty of Eros High School in the community of Eros in Jackson Parish. He taught in the summer of 1917 at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He was then on the LSU faculty in 1918 and from 1920 to 1923, he was assigned to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute. He was dean of the ULL college of education from 1923 to 1930, when he was appointed president of LSU during the administration of Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr. During Smith's tenure there, LSU enrollment grew from 2,100 to 8,550 students.
Scandal at LSU
When urged by his staff to install Smith as a "politically pliable" president for LSU, Huey Long was quoted as having asked, "Who the hell's Smith?" Time called Smith an "academic puppet," under whose tenure Long spent $13.5 million at LSU for buildings, a huge swimming pool, "professional" football players, and the LSU Medical Center in New Orleans. Long boasted, "If there's any title I'm proud of, it's Chief Thief for LSU." Smith also benefited from lavish spending at the university. He installed his family in a campus mansion and bought a $3,000 car (then a large amount for a vehicle) at a time when most roads in Louisiana were still unpaved and when LSU faculty salaries were in arrears.
When the "Hayride" scandals claimed Governor Richard Webster Leche of New Orleans, he turned over the office to Huey Long's younger brother, then Lieutenant Governor Earl Kemp Long. Having just resigned as the LSU president, Smith was missing when Earl Long succeeded to the governorship. Students derided their former president as "Jimmy the Stooge." Three banks in Baton Rouge and New Orleans revealed that they had lent Smith $500,000 on notes that he had signed as the LSU president. The larger Fenner & Beane brokerage house in New Orleans had asked Smith to withdraw $375,000 in LSU bonds which he had posted as collateral for speculating in wheat futures. The state attorney general declared the notes unauthorized and worthless. An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Smith for embezzling $100,000. Broker Charles Fenner, later part of Merrill Lynch, said that Smith had represented perhaps "a dozen friends" in the speculation.
For a week the whereabouts of Smith and his wife was unknown. They had traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, and returned to Baton Rouge, where he was arrested as a material witness. Then they surfaced in Brockville, Ontario, Canada. Smith had purchased a $20,000 plane with only four seats for use to recruit athletes to LSU. This plane was sent to return Smith to Louisiana. If Mrs. Smith flew as well, the plane could accommodate only one law enforcement officer. But Smith refused to be separated from his wife for the plane trip home, and the two instead drove back to Baton Rouge, with Smith vowing that he would yet clear his name.
In 1940, Smith pleaded guilty to three charges of forgery and one of embezzlement. He was sentenced to eight-to-twenty-four years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in West Feliciana Parish north of Baton Rouge. He was also sentenced in U.S. District Court in 1945 to thirty months in the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, on charges of mail fraud and tax evasion. Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, like Smith a native of Jackson Parish, commuted Smith's state sentence, but Smith still served ten months in the Atlanta prison until he was paroled in February 1945 during the administration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In July 1946, Smith accepted the position as head of academic studies at Burritt Preparatory School for Boys in Spencer in Van Buren County, in east central Tennessee. In September 1948, Smith relocated to New Orleans and entered the real estate business. He was soon named director of vocational rehabilitation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where, oddly, he was to have been an inmate prior to his commutation of sentence by Governor Davis. He worked in that capacity with Rollo Charles Lawrence, Sr. (1894-1968), the first Angola superintendent, a position created by combining the functions of general manager and warden. Lawrence had been from 1930 to 1946 the mayor of Pineville.
Smith was a member of the American Academy of Political Science, Phi Kappa Phi scholastic honor society, and the Phi Delta Kappa educators association. He was a Southern Baptist and a member of the Masonic lodge. In 1927, Smith penned Training of High School Teachers in Louisiana. He was a golfer with interests also in bridge playing, football, and reading.
- Smith, James Monroe. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, publication of the Louisiana Historical Association). Retrieved on December 27, 2019.
- It is unclear if Smith was named for the fifth U.S. President, James Monroe.
- Louisiana: Jimmy the Stooge. Time magazine (July 10, 1939). Retrieved on December 29, 2019.
- A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography uses these sources for its sketch of Smith: Albert Nelson Marquis, Who's Who in America, 1932-1933 (1932), XVII; Harnett T. Kane, Huey Long's Louisiana Hayride: The American Rehearsal for Dictatorship, 1928-1940 (1941); T. Harry Williams, Huey Long (1969); the since defunct Baton Rouge State-Times, Smith obituary published on May 27, 1949; The New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 28, 1949.