Edith Renfrow Smith, Black Educator Hall Of Fame Member

Every day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org and the Education Post, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer. But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History MonthFebruary is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black Educator Hall of Fame Member is Edith Renfrow Smith.

Edith R. Smith was born on July 14, 1914 in Grinnell, Iowa. Mrs. Renfrow-Smith remains with us at the youthful age of 108 years young. She is the fifth of six children. We often feel detached from the legacy of enslavement because it seems so far away. But Mrs. Renfrow-Smith is proof of how close the legacy of enslavement actually is.

She’s the granddaughter of enslaved Black people. Her father’s mother was from Gambia and was stolen; arriving in the U.S. on a ship. Her mother’s father escaped enslavement and settled in Grinnell and was a barber. A profile of Mrs. Renfrow-Smith and her grandparents made the news with their profile in the Crisis Magazine telling their story.

Mrs. Renfrow-Smith’s parents, and grandparents, held education as a top priority. The parents sent all their children to college. Edith attended Grinnell College and she was the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell in 1937.

She majored in psychology and minored in both history and economics.

After graduating, Edith worked for the YWCA, Univ. of Chicago, the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago, and then as a public schoolteacher in Chicago for over twenty years, and that’s where she resides now, where she has continued to volunteer for the Art Institute and Goodwill.

Ms. Renfrow-Smith said much of her life journey was motivated by those in her family who grew up in the struggle of poverty and racism. She certainly left her mark. So much so that Grinnell College named a residence hall (Renfrow Hall) and a library (Edith Renfrow Smith Black Women’s Library) named in her honor.

Of the renaming, Renfrow-Smith said that “You don’t know how much it means to somebody who reaches over 100 to know that your life has not been in vain.”

Just as powerful as her impact on the lives she touched as an educator, are Renfrow-Smith’s words of wisdom. Renfrow-Smith previously shared, “Just remember, this is a wonderful world, and you need to take care of it. These old men in office, do something about all these guns they’re letting them manufacture. All the things that are harmful to people. Just remember, there’s tomorrow. Today is not the last day.”

Edith Renfrow Smith; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Edith Renfrow Smith, visit the following site.


  1. I’m excited to see your post about Edith Renfrow Smith and see you say that she is a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame. I am a part of the team in Grinnell documenting her life and accomplishments. I would love to add the information about her BEHOF membership to our information and to her Wikipedia page, which I try to keep up to date. Is this honor officially listed anywhere so that I can link to a confirmed reference? I appreciate your article and you help in updating the honors this worthy woman has received. Thank you.


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