Born in Greensboro on April 19, 1871, William C. Smith was the son of Samuel Cunningham Smith and Margaret Ella Cunningham Smith. His father actually served as the City of Greensboro’s first superintendent of schools. Smith graduated with Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees from UNC Chapel Hill in 1896, where he also was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. After graduation, he worked for four years at UNC as an instructor of history as well as English and pedagogy.
In 1907, he took on additional administrative duties as dean of the faculty, a role in which he served as the school’s second in command, filling in for President Julius Foust during Foust’s absences. With the college’s administrative reorganization in 1922, Smith transitioned to the role of Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In this role, he advocated for broadening the school’s curriculum beyond the existing “normal” (teaching) coursework and lead the push towards college accreditation. After resigning as dean in 1934, Smith continued serving as head of the English Department until 1938. He continued teaching English courses until two weeks prior to his death in 1943.
In addition to his teaching and administrative responsibilities, Smith served as chairman of the campus chapel and conducted services at a time when chapel attendance was a daily requirement for students. He also became well known in Greensboro as the teacher of a large men’s Bible study class at the First Presbyterian Church, where his uncle had served for many years as pastor.