The Rev. George Franklin Smythe, the most notable diocesan historiographer, was born in Toledo, Ohio on October 21, 1852, the son of Anson and Carolina (Fitch) Smythe. He received an A.B. degree from Western Reserve University in 1874 and an M.A. degree from the same institution in 1877. He married Emma C. Hall of Hudson, Ohio in 1878. For the next several years he taught in high schools in Cleveland and at the Greylock Institute in Massachusetts. He was ordained by the Rt. Rev. Gregory T. Bedell, third bishop of Ohio, as a deacon in 1885, and as a priest in 1886. During the turbulent economy of the late 1880s he concurrently served as rector of both Christ Church, Oberlin (1885-1890) and St. Andrew, Elyria (1887-1890). In 1887 it cost $8.00 to rent a horse and buggy to get from Oberlin to Elyria to lead worship on Sunday afternoons. In 1888 that price dropped by half as did Smythe’s salary. So beloved was he in both congregations that in 1890 when he tendered a letter of resignation to become vicar at St. Paul’s Mission in Toledo, the good people in Oberlin and Elyria refused to accept it. Newly minted Bishop (1889) William Andrew Leonard took a train from Cleveland to Elyria to meet with both vestries and intercede on Smythe’s behalf. Smythe was made an honorary Canon of Trinity Cathedral and served as one of Bishop Leonard’s chaplains for many years.
In 1890 Smythe was appointed as one of five clergy judges for the Ecclesiastical Court in the heresy trial of the Rev. Howard Macquarie. The Rev. Macquarie, rector of St. Paul’s Church in Canton, had written a book in which he stated he didn’t believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus nor did he believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The trial was held at Trinity Church, Cleveland on January 7, 1891. Macquarie was found guilty by a vote of three to two. Smythe was one of the two votes for acquittal and this vote cost him dearly in terms of his work with colleagues in the Diocese of Ohio and his parish in Toledo. Smythe would only serve the mission in Toledo for one year. In 1892 he became the rector of St. Paul’s, Mount Vernon, where he labored until he became rector of Harcourt Parish in Gambier and chaplain at Kenyon College serving from 1902 until 1915.
Smythe was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree from Kenyon College in 1898. From 1902 until 1920 he was on the faculty at Kenyon College and the Bexley Hall Seminary teaching Latin, homiletics, and religious education. He served as Dean of the Bexley Hall Seminary from 1918 until 1920.
In 1914 Smythe became “Historiographer of the Diocese” (a forerunner to archivist) and was part of a group of four men and one woman (“Mrs. Cretus A. Dowell”) charged by Bishop Leonard with writing a diocesan history to celebrate the centennial of the diocese in 1918. Thanks to a presentation by Mrs. Dowell, whose given name was Olive Amelia, at a meeting of diocesan parochial historiographers at Christ Church, Shaker Heights in 1963, we have some clues about the amount of work which went into looking for records and getting this project off the ground. Smythe’s handwritten notes for each parish can be found in the parish records held by the Diocesan Archives. Smythe, was deterred from this work because of his election as Dean of Bexley Hall, and because he was also writing a history about Kenyon College for the college’s centennial celebration in 1924. Smythe’s A History of the Diocese of Ohio Until the Year 1918 was finally published on March 31, 1931 and made available at the Diocesan Convention on May 5 for the cost of $3.00. Smythe was a prolific writer and even composed the Kenyon song about Bishop Philander Chase (The first of Kenyon’s Goodly Race) which is still sung today by incoming first year students and graduating seniors at Kenyon College. Smythe died August 25, 1934 as another financial depression was plaguing our country. For economic reasons, our diocese ceased publishing Church Life and issued occasional “Bishop’s Newsletters” typed on mimeographed paper and published by Marjorie Daw Moreland for the Publicity Department of the Diocese. In the seventh such “news bulletin” from September 1934 Smythe’s obituary is recorded by the fifth bishop of Ohio: Warren Lincoln Rogers. Bishop Rogers refers to Smythe as “the oldest active clergyman in years of service to the Diocese of Ohio” who was a “revered pastor”and “a Christian Gentleman, a sympathetic scholar (a nod to his vote in the Macquarie trial) and a beloved priest in our diocese.” He is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland next to his spouse Emma who died in 1927. His gravestone reads simply George F. Smythe, “An Episcopal Minister,” and includes the first verse of Psalm 89, “My song shall always be of the loving kindness of the Lord.