Hot Springs’ Leading Lady

Alta Smith valued for her award-winning promotions


Photography courtesy of the Garland County Historical Society

Who was Alta Smith? Many people today don’t remember her, but Hot Springs owes a great deal to this remarkable woman.

As a young woman, Smith worked here as a librarian and then as society editor of the Hot Springs New Era. Leaving Hot Springs, she became the national publicity director for the YWCA. In 1924, she brought her boundless enthusiasm and tireless work ethic back to Hot Springs, becoming the publicity director of the chamber of commerce. From 1924 to 1963, she brought Hot Springs to the notice of the world.

She created the iconic Hot Springs’ slogans “We Bathe the World” and “Where the World Bathes and Plays” and the image of the world in a bathtub. She wrote award-winning booklets about Hot Springs that were distributed all over the country. She produced thousands of stories, photographs, and programs about Hot Springs and helped countless writers produce stories of their own. A great networker, she cultivated contacts everywhere — her friends included editors and writers from all over the country.42403a-large-Alta-Smith-with-camera-and-car

As one editor said, “All through the lean years of the Depression and the war years of the ’40s, she single-handedly kept up the drumfire of publicity releases and pictures to the nation’s magazines and newspapers to keep Hot Springs on the travel pages of the country’s newspapers.” Her efforts in the 1950s and ’60s continued to attract reporters, writers, and conventions here.

She wasn’t valued just because of her work. As one admirer said, she was a “ … warmhearted, generous, great-souled woman who believed the best of other people and thought continually of the welfare of others. She knew many people well, in all walks of life from the most privileged to the lowly, and she felt a common bond with all that made her equally at home in any group or any surroundings.”

Smith was still working for the chamber when she died after a sudden stroke in 1963. A TV station reported, “Most people here remember her as the lady who worked seven days a week sending the Hot Springs story around the world. Today, at the age of 75, Miss Alta Smith finished her story.” Another writer noted, “Her work for her state and city was her life, and it is now her monument.”

ask-lizWhen the chamber of commerce building on Convention Boulevard was going to be torn down in 1965, Inez Cline of the newly formed Garland County Historical Society arrived in time to rescue dozens of boxes that were being tossed from a second-floor window onto a junk pile to be burned. The boxes contained thousands of Smith’s photographs, files, letters, stories, and records.

The Alta Smith materials became the core of GCHS collections. The society uses them and shares them with researchers every day, so in a very significant way, the remarkable Alta Smith is still promoting Hot Springs, still spreading the word about our unique town. She would, without a doubt, be very pleased.

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