The treasures in the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) nearly all have come to the NMSU Library through generous donations from residents of southern New Mexico. We are always seeking relevant research collections – manuscripts, family papers, records, photographs, films, audio materials and other primary source documentation – that fill in details of our region’s history. We want to collect records that reflect the lived experience of all New Mexicans who call the southern part of our state home. We also focus on collecting materials created by and about former students, staff and faculty of NMSU that illuminate our long and proud school history.
Earlier in the summer, I received an email from area residents Merle and Linda Osborn. They told me that more than 15 years ago they had purchased a scrapbook from an antique dealer in El Paso that had been created by a former student of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (a.k.a. State College, Ag College, A&M, etc.). As history and genealogy enthusiasts, the Osborns had lovingly cared for the historic scrapbook and researched the life of its creator – Howell Allie Smith. Now, they felt it was time to find a permanent home for it and thought the NMSU Archives would be the right place. We arranged to meet (with masks and at an appropriate social distance) to make the handoff. I brought the item back to the library and let it “quarantine” for a week before opening the lid of the archival box the Osborn’s had purchased for the scrapbook. The pages opened a door onto life at the college 100 years ago.
Howell Allie Smith was born in San Marcos, Texas in 1898. He arrived in Las Cruces in the fall of 1916 to begin his studies in agricultural science, particularly dairy science, at New Mexico A&M. He was an active student at the college, involved in clubs, organizations, sports, social life and student activities. A big part of Howell’s college experience was his involvement with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. When Congress authorized the establishment of R.O.T.C. units at educational institutions in 1916, on the eve of WWI, New Mexico A&M was among the first colleges to apply for the program. By 1917, Howell Smith was a corporal in Company A. As the United States entered the war in 1917, military exercises became an important part of the college experience here for Howell and other students. The scrapbook shows that Howell left the college briefly in 1918 to join the U.S. Army, training in California and Ohio, but he doesn’t appear to have served in the war in Europe. He was back in Las Cruces and finished his senior year in 1919.
The Osborn’s research shows that after college Howell Smith started a family and began a career in the dairy business in Colorado. In 1937, the family was living in Austin, Texas, where he was field milk supervisor for the Texas Department of Health. By 1940, they had settled back in El Paso where he worked in the advertising and insurance fields. Just as he did in college, Howell remained an active member of the community as a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Optimist Club, the YMCA, and the El Paso Photographic Society. He died in El Paso in 1956, at the young age of 57.
The scrapbook is an incredibly detailed record of a student’s life at the college during the WWI era. It contains hundreds of photographs, autographs from classmates, detailed logs of academic and social activities, souvenir programs of balls, dances, promenades and cotillions, class schedules, membership cards for student organizations, letters from friends and family, newspaper clippings, records of R.O.T.C. and military service in WWI, and his cherished diploma. It’s hard to know how a scrapbook with such incredible personal details about someone’s life can end up in an antique shop, but we are very fortunate that the Osborns had the wisdom to purchase the scrapbook, preserve it, research the life of its creator, and ultimately donate the item back to NMSU. Here it will remain as an important record of our school’s history, available to all.
Click on the icons below to see sample images from the Howell Allie Smith scrapbook.