Visible Women

The 10-year-old girl who rallied for world peace in the face of nuclear war

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Forgotten Women is a series dedicated to giving women of history the exposure they deserve. As part of Stylist’s Made By Girls takeover, women’s editor Lola, 15, pays tribute to junior American peace activist Samantha Smith. 

What did she do?

In 1983, aged just 10, Samantha Smith wrote a brave letter to Russia’s General Secretary Yuri Andropov, where she gracefully but daringly discussed her concerns about the possible Cold War between America and Russia. Little did she know that she would soon become known as ‘America’s Youngest Goodwill Ambassador’.

Samantha Smith was a young girl who grew up in the US state of Maine. Born on 29 June, 1972, she took an interest in the world around her from a very young age.
At just five years old she wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth ll, where she discussed
her phenomenal admiration for the monarch. The letter was never answered, but she never lost her engagement with the outside world.

In 1983, with talk of a possible war between Russia and America, a concerned Samantha knew she had to do all she could to stop it from taking place. So she wrote a letter to Russian General Secretary Yuri Andropov:

“Dear Mr Andropov, My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. 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. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.

“Sincerely, Samantha Smith.” 

Samantha Smith in 1984. Image: Getty Images 

Samantha wrote this letter in mid-April 1983, and when she did not receive a reply, she wrote another letter asking the Soviet Embassy why. When questioned about her second letter in an interview, she stated: “I was worried about nuclear war, and thought it would be more fun to write to Yuri Andropov instead of the president.”

A few days later, she received a response from the General Secretary which stated in response to Samantha’s question about why he wanted to “conquer the world” that he wanted to do “nothing of the kind”. He also referred to Samantha as being incredibly courageous for writing the letter.

In the letter, Andropov invited her to visit Russia to see the Soviet Union. She accepted. She said on The Tonight Show that she included presents and games in her packing to deliver to children she met there. Moscow was the first city she landed in, where she discovered that her favourite Russian food was chicken Kiev. However, during her stay, she never got to meet Andropov due to him being too busy at the time.

After her visit, she wrote a book about her experiences called Journey To The Soviet Union and was featured in multiple interviews on television and in newspapers. She was even hired to be part of the cast of the television drama series Lime Street. She then went on to participate in multiple peace-making activities in Japan. 

Smith at Artek International Children’s Centre on the Crimean Peninsula in 1983. Image: Getty Images 

Her legacy

Sadly, when Samantha was just 13 years old, her life was brought to a tragic end when she was a passenger aboard Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808, which crashed while landing at Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport in Maine on 25 August, 1985.

After her death, though, her will for peace still echoed. Many people also began campaigning against war, and a monument was built in her honour in Moscow. To this day, she is still remembered in the Artek Young Pioneers Camp, an international children’s centre with playgrounds, cinemas, and other activities, where a street was named after her.

A diamond found in Siberia, an asteroid in outer space and numerous schools are just a few of the things named in Smith’s honour. There is even a bronze statue of her near the Maine State Museum.

Words by Lola, 15, women’s editor. When she’s not researching and writing for Stylist, Lola enjoys reading and creative writing, she loves animals and is also a pretty mean piano player.

Illustration by Thea, 15, artist. Chicken and waffles lover Thea would like to be an architectural designer after school and university. Her favourite book is Blood Tracks by Paula Rawsthorne. 

The Forgotten Women series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. See more Visible Women stories here.