Smith, Samantha (1972–1985)

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Smith, Samantha (1972–1985)

American peace advocate. Born in 1972; died in a plane crash in Auburn, Maine, on August 25, 1985; daughter of Arthur Smith and Jane Smith; attended Manchester Elementary School, Manchester, Maine.

Samantha Smith was a bright and attractive ten-year-old in 1982, when a classroom discussion about the threat of nuclear war prompted her to write a letter to then Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov expressing her fears and concerns. "I

have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war," she began. "Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war…. I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country." Samantha closed with a youthful plea for peace. "God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight."

Samantha had almost forgotten about the letter when, in April 1983, a reporter from United Press International called her school and said he had seen the letter in Pravda, the official state newspaper of the Soviet Union, and wondered whether Samantha had written it. Samantha went home that afternoon and wrote another letter to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, asking if he could explain what was going on. On April 25, she received a 500-word letter from Andropov himself, in which he likened Samantha to Becky Thatcher in Mark Twain's novel Tom Sawyer, calling her "courageous and honest." He went on to assure her that he was doing everything he could to prevent war, and ended the letter with an invitation to Samantha and her parents to visit the Soviet Union that summer, as guests of the country.

As the Smiths planned their journey, the media went into high gear. Journalists for Time, Newsweek, and People, as well as for the Soviet press, all showed up at the Smith household, and Samantha traveled to New York for interviews with Ted Koppel and Jane Pauley , and to California for an appearance with Johnny Carson. By July 23, 1983, when the family left to visit the Soviet Union, 11-year-old Samantha Smith was a national celebrity.

The Smiths' two-week tour was carefully monitored, and centered on Soviet schoolchildren. Samantha visited Moscow and Leningrad, and also traveled to the Artek Pioneer Camp near the Black Sea, where she spent a few days with the "Young Pioneers," a youth group similar to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in the United States. She met Valentina Tereshkova , the first woman in space, and had lunch with the U.S. ambassador. The only thing missing from the itinerary was an interview with Andropov, who was reportedly too busy with matters of state to meet with her.

While most Americans viewed Samantha's trip as a diplomatic coup, some believed that the entire affair had been overblown. Others questioned Soviet intentions; US News and World Report ran an editorial entitled, "Samantha Smith—Pawn in Propaganda War." Samantha's father Arthur addressed some of the concerns about propaganda. "I suppose there might be something in that," he said. "At the same time, it doesn't take too much to realize they have a lot to lose too. You can't hide the economic conditions of a country, even from the back seat of a limousine."

Samantha's homecoming was marked with a huge parade and a ceremony presenting her with the key to Manchester. The young celebrity now balanced schoolwork, sports, and leisure time with television appearances, speeches, and travel. She wrote a book entitled Journey to the Soviet Union, and traveled with her mother Jane Smith to the Children's International Symposium in Kobe, Japan, where she proposed that U.S. and Soviet leaders exchange granddaughters for several weeks every year. "A president wouldn't want to send a bomb to a country his granddaughter would be visiting," she said in a speech.

During the 1984 election year, with her father now acting as her manager, Samantha hosted a special on the Disney Channel to educate children about politics and the presidential candidates, and in 1985, she was cast as Robert Wagner's daughter in the television series "Lime Street." In August of that year, flying home with her father from filming in England, her plane crashed and exploded during a rainstorm in Auburn, Maine. Everyone aboard, including six other passengers and the crew, was killed.

The funeral for Samantha Smith and her father was attended by hundreds, although the U.S. government did not sent a representative. Vladimir Kulagir, first secretary for cultural affairs from the Soviet embassy in Washington, spoke at the ceremony, calling Samantha a symbol of peace and friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union. "Samantha was like a small but very powerful and brilliant beam of sunshine which penetrated the thunderstorm clouds which envelop between our two countries," he said. "The best message and memory to Arthur and Samantha would be if we continue what they started and reach over borders with goodwill, friendship and love."

Samantha's influence did not end with her death. The Soviet government issued a stamp in her honor and named a flower and a diamond after her. In her home state of Maine, a life-size statue of Smith was erected in front of the State Library in Augusta, which depicts her releasing a dove. Beside her is a bear, a symbol of both the Soviet Union and Maine. In October 1985, Samantha's mother established the Samantha Smith Foundation, dedicated to encouraging peace and friendship between children of all countries. The foundation sponsored several conferences and exchange programs between the United States and the Soviet Union. One of the tributes to the young ambassador came from a poem printed in Pravda, "The child has died, but she had time enough to shake the minds and souls of people."


Bush, Maribeth. "Samantha Smith," on Can Do! web page, 1997–2001.

Malvasi, Meg Greene. "Samantha Smith: America's Youngest Ambassador," in History for, 1996–2001.

"Obituary Notice," in Contemporary Newsmakers, 1985.

suggested reading:

Galicich, Anne. Samantha Smith: A Journey for Peace. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon, 1987.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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