In Memoriam: Dorothy L.W. Smith, 1939-2022

Dorothy Smith, a longtime educator and the first Black woman to hold public office in San Diego, California, died on February 16. She was 82 years old.

A native of Capleville, Tennessee, Smith attended racially segregated schools. The valedictorian of her high school class, Smith enrolled at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, but later married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Case Western Reserve University.

Smith began her career as a high school English teacher. After moving to California in 1969, Smith taught at Long Beach City College, Grossmont Community College, and later San Diego City College, where she was a professor for 24 years. Smith also lectured at San Diego State University, teaching courses in teacher education and rhetoric and writing.

In 1981, Smith was appointed to the board of the San Diego Unified School District. She was later elected to the board and was the first Black woman elected to public office in San Diego County. She served on the school board for eight years and twice was the president of the board. Later, she was appointed an inaugural member of the San Diego Ethics Commission by the city’s mayor and served as president of the commission for two years.

In 2019, Smith was elected to the San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame.


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  1. Delores Fisher says:

    Dr. Dorothy Smith was a mentor and a family friend. She would take time to talk with me and provide valuable insights into life.

    Her impressive achievements, as the first African American woman appointed or hired in many educational and political spaces, balanced intellect, courage, and grace.

    Dr. Dorothy Smith’s faith and dedication to God, family, community, and her church, also provided a living testimony as to how to “be in the world, but not of the world.”

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