How it all started...
I grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, where I saw
first-hand that history was big business. Even as a kid, I was well aware of
how much money was being spent by tourists starting every Patriot’s Day — April
But I also knew that history was deeply personal. It was
real. The ghosts and the memories were everywhere. I felt them.
I will share with you something I am just starting to tell
people and that is that history saved my life. I was a very unhappy kid, living
in a very unhappy household, and I craved role models of courage and
determination who succeeded despite obstacles. I craved role models who were
honorable, who I could look up to. And I found them at the “Old North Bridge”
where, in my young mind, men did the most courageous thing possible by fighting
for liberty and independence. To me, they were very real, and I embraced them.
(Yes, I was vaguely aware of Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, et al, but I wasn’t
ready for them.)
I tell you this story because this is why I am so
passionate about history. These stories can literally save lives, and we never
know who will be impacted and how.
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up except write, but I always
hoped that history would be part of my life.
At Simmons College in Boston, I was drawn to history for love (especially women's history, where I developed my lifelong passion for uncovering and telling the stories of women!) and to
communications for my profession. After a couple of “real jobs” in
Boston’s cultural community, I knew I wanted to be on my own. I could
already tell that I didn’t fit within the confines of “how things are
done” in the traditional nonprofit sector. I also wanted to be in business and make money!
Going out on my own
I started Hurd Smith Communications to support myself as a
graphic designer and writer. In turn, Hurd Smith would support “my
habit,” as I told people, which meant my own historical research.
Because I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was still surrounded by
history and able to tap into a rich client base of cultural
Then, with a master’s degree in communications management and years of
practical experience as a service provider and nonprofit volunteer
fundraiser and promoter, my company quickly expanded to include public
relations, marketing, fundraising, event planning, and nonprofit
administration. I loved being able to “marry” my knowledge of historical
organizations with business.
I loved the idea that the business side of the equation could promote
and help sustain historical sites, projects, and organizations in ways
they could not necessarily manage on their own. I believed then, and
still do, that we all have a stake in preserving and celebrating our
In my work as a professional or volunteer, I now incorporated the
“economic argument” into any case for support of a history project. The
sands were shifting in the 1990s, and you ignored economics at your
Women’s history and trails
At about this time, the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail
(BWHT) asked me to serve as its part-time executive director and I agreed. Luckily, my schedule allowed for this flexibility.
I had already helped lead a statewide project to honor historical women
at the Massachusetts State House, which was an extraordinary public art
process, and I thought, why not? Once again, I could combine history and
marketing and continue to focus on women’s history — which was now a
reawakened passion from college days.
Because BWHT was a virtual organization with limited funds, I HAD to
think and act like an entrepreneur to promote women’s history in Boston.
I also helped create a women’s history trail on the South Shore of
Massachusetts, collaborated on the Cambridge Women’s History Project,
and eventually created the Salem (MA) Women’s Heritage Trail and the
Boston Women & The Law Trail.
Almost simultaneously, I joined the board of the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts, whose most famous resident, Judith Sargent Murray
the eighteenth-century essayist and women’s rights advocate, I had
first encountered as an undergraduate and taken on as a personal
research subject. She was also the subject of my Master's thesis at
Simmons -- a "product launch" of Judith Sargent Murray.
As the president of a small, under-staffed historic house museum, you
can imagine how hard I worked to promote, fundraise, manage, and engage
every sector of the local and regional communities in what we were
doing. Eventually, with the museum on sound footing, I left to pursue my
own research on Murray. I have since published four books on her
letters, a brief biography, founded a society in her name, and today I am considered the
leading scholar on Murray’s life.
My historical work has been incredibly rewarding, especially in the
field of women’s history, and it has led me to accolades, public
recognition, the respect of the scholarly community, and an appointment
to the board of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites
Several years ago I accepted another part-time executive director
position for the Ipswich Historical Society, where I was able to
practice some of these new, inclusive approaches.
My work for Hurd Smith kept leading me to larger and more public
projects, including grand-scale community events and historical
anniversaries. Each one has produced a significant “return on
investment” for the businesses, nonprofits, and communities involved.
I have learned so much from these experiences, and this is not even a complete list!
Finding my niche and starting History Smiths
During my work on these historical community projects, I kept
encountering business people who wanted to become involved in local
history in ways that went beyond check writing. They wanted to be viewed
as respected contributors to the historical community. But how?
In one instance, the owner of an insurance agency asked me to lend my
reputation to his company by conducting a research study for his 100th
anniversary, creating marketing materials and news releases.
In another instance, I was able to connect local banks with specific
history-related projects they could volunteer for and support because I
knew the history and where the opportunities were.
More examples of connecting businesses to local history for their
benefit kept coming my way – again, because of my unusual blending of
history and marketing – and I paid
As a result, I launched History Smiths in March 2010 with a special
focus on businesses, particularly professional service providers, who
want to connect with customers, secure customer loyalty, and boost their
business's reputation in the communities they serve.
And what a pleasure it has been to work with these professionals,
because you know what? At the end of the day, it means that many, many
more people are helping to preserve our precious historical resources
for future generations.
The old ways no longer work. Instead, working together, we business people who honor history and know
we can use it to benefit our bottom lines, are forging new paths.
That’s exciting, rewarding stuff.
I have also become a sought-after speaker, and I have developed a series of both business and history talks.
NOTHING is more rewarding than inspiring people to think differently about history -- as a source of information AND inspiration that can profoundly impact people personally.
And so the passion has only grown, and it has also evolved into making more connections between stories from women's history and what we can do with them today -- to inspire young people, to inspire the rest of us, to get businesses involved...there is no limit to this stuff!
The people I work with or speak to want to make a difference in the world, and getting involved with history can do that and be deeply fulfilling.
So, yes, I'm on a mission and I hope you will join me!
Thanks for stopping by!
Bonnie Hurd Smith