|From left to right: Dr. John Ferguson, Mildred |
Smith, Charlean Etter and Mary Medearis
Prior to starting her career in education, Mrs. Smith worked in Little Rock at Ottenheimer Brothers, which became one of the largest women’s garment factories in America. The company made history in the 1940s by hiring African American workers during a time in which the workforce was diminished due to World War II.Both fashion and beauty were great interests in Mrs. Smith’s life, and she also became a licensed cosmetologist as a graduate of Velvatex College of Beauty in Little Rock.
During the 1950s, she began her teaching career in the Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts, in addition to being a devoted wife and mother of three children. By the early 1970s, Smith returned to her hometown of Washington and continued to teach in the Hope School District and eventually in Washington. She served as principal and subsequently the first black female school superintendent of the Washington School District. Not only was she a groundbreaker in the education field, she also actively engaged in politics, where she was the first black female Democratic delegate in the area.
Amid the fervor of the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in the mid-1970s, Hempstead County residents reflected on their role in the nation’s celebration. The Washington (Arkansas) Bicentennial Committee formed, and committee members decided to purchase research books for a local library. The Hempstead County Historical Society also formed during this time, and Smith became an active volunteer. She initially sought the advice of Arkansas History Commission Director Dr. John Ferguson about starting a library. Instead, Ferguson encouraged her to think even bigger: Why not start a regional archive?
Smith took Ferguson’s suggestion to heart; she served as a founding board member of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) when it opened in 1978. It was a project of the Hempstead County Historical Society which had support from the Arkansas History Commission (now the Arkansas State Archives), Historic Washington State Park and the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, along with a board of directors made up of members from its 12-county focus area. Part of the 1874 Court House at the state park housed SARA until the early 1990s when the archives were relocated to the former Washington Elementary School where Smith had taught.
 For more information see https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/rosston-nevada-county-7245/
 For more information see https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/gus-ottenheimer-1728/
 For more information see https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/southwest-arkansas-regional-archives-sara-7002/