P.S. 182Q Samantha Smith School

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was an American peace activist during some of the most tense moments in the Cold War. Samantha Smith was born in Maine in 1972. In 1982, at 10 years old, she decided to write a letter to the then current Soviet Union Leader Yuri Andropov. Smith had listened to newscasters and watched science videos on the imposing threat of nuclear war. Feeling anxious about the global situation, Smith followed her mother's advice to reach out directly to the new leader of Soviet Russia.

In the letter, Smith expressed her concern over the threat of war. She asked Andropov if he was planning to vote for there to be a war and "why he wanted to conquer the world." The letter was published in the Soviet newspaper "Pravda." Although Smith was excited that her letter was published, she had not yet received a response from Andropov himself. Therefore, Smith wrote a second letter, this time to the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, to ask why Andropov hadn't responded. In the spring of 1983, Andropov responded to her letter, assuring that he did not want to conquer the world and inviting Smith and her family to visit the Soviet Union.

This letter gained national attention and although some were skeptical on Andropov's reasons for inviting Smith to the USSR, she ultimately decided to go and visited in July, 1983. Samantha was met with a warm welcome from the Russian public and media. During her two week stay in Russia, Smith visited Lenin’s grave, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Artek summer camp in Crimea, and met Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go to space. She met many people, including fellow children, many of whom had never met an American before. Her visit was widely covered by both Soviet and Western press. She was dubbed "America’s Youngest Ambassador."

Upon her return to the United States, Smith appeared on many media outlets such as "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," Disney Channel (where she interviewed Democratic presidential candidates), had many interviews, and began writing her own book. Smith described that Americans had been given the wrong impression of Soviet people. She reported that unlike how the Soviets were often portrayed, they wanted peace just as much as any American did. Smith also stated that the other children she met in Russia were just like some of the kids she knew in the United States. Overall, the experience was very positive for Smith and highlighted the humanity that exists no matter which country you are from.

However, with this coverage, some questioned whether Samantha Smith was being used as a pawn by both governments. Yet some argue that by presenting and representing herself as a regular American girl, Smith evaded this mistrust. Additionally, although the goal of the invitation might have been to show Soviets as peace-loving and kind, the trip also brought a favorable light to Americans. Smith made it hard for both sides to continue villainizing each other.

Samantha Smith's journey was inspirational and showed the power of human connection during war. However, her work had little impact on the increasing strain between the two governments. The relationship continued to deteriorate and nuclear war was still a massive threat. Through this turmoil, Smith was prepared to stay in the spotlight and stand as an example of what can be achieved through openness and curiosity. Tragically, Samantha Smith and her father were killed in a plane crash in 1985 on their way back to Maine. She was 13 years old.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union mourned her passing. President Reagan sent a condolence letter to her mom and both American and Soviet officials attended her funeral in Maine. In total, about 1,000 people attended. She was also eulogized in Moscow as a champion of peace. Since her death, many places and things have been named in her honor. Such as a bronze statue in Augusta, Maine made in 1986, depicting Smith releasing a dove with a bear cub clinging to her legs. The bear cub represents both Russia and Maine, bears are considered iconic symbols of both areas, and the dove is an international symbol of peace. Additionally, in 1985, Soviet Russia released a stamp with Smith's face and name (in Russian) and named a diamond found in Yakutsk, Siberia after her.

Following her death in 1985, her mother Jane Smith, founded the Samantha Smith Foundation. Over the course of a decade, The foundation organized summer visits for children, to and from the Soviet Union and its successor states. In 1986, Jane Smith accompanied 20 of Samantha Smith's classmates on a trip to Moscow to visit some of the site Samantha had also visited 3 years earlier. In 1988, Soviet children came to summer camp in Maine, and Maine children went to summer camp in Russia through the Foundation. Then in 1990 the Foundation hosted children from the Chernobyl fallout zone, many of them suffering radiation-induced health problems. The next year, in 1991, they hosted even more children from that area. In that same year, the Foundation started a business internship program in the U.S. for young adults from the Soviet Union and its successor states. Interns spent a month in a carefully chosen business in Maine to learn. The Foundation continued to sponsor summer camp and internship programs until 1995. Sadly, by 1995 newer and larger youth exchange organizations emerged and competed for the same grant money. Although the Samantha Smith Foundation is currently dormant, it still has an annual board of directors meeting to distribute the funds that it does receive to other nonprofit programs with a similar mission.

Samantha Smith has had a lasting legacy. Her openness and curiosity reminded the world of the importance of human connection and kindness even in the midst of a war. In 2008, Smith posthumously received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for helping to bring about a better understanding between people of the Soviet Union and the United States. Smith continues to be honored for bringing humanity to a scary and contentious time in history.


Mo Rocca, "Samantha Smith, the fifth-grader from Maine who became "America's Littlest Diplomat"," CBS News, January 29, 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mobituaries-samantha-smith-americas-littlest-diplomat/

Lorraine Boissoneault, "The Surprising Story of the American Girl Who Broke Through the Iron Curtain," Smithsonian Magazine, May 10, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/surprising-story-american-girl-who-broke-through-iron-curtain-180969043/

"Samantha's Letter to Yuri Andropov," Samantha Smith Foundation, accessed June 15, 2023, https://www.samanthasmith.info/letter

"Russians Name Gem For Samantha Smith," New York Times, September 8, 1985, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/09/08/world/russians-name-gem-for-samantha-smith.html

"The Samantha Smith Foundation," Samantha Smith Foundation, accessed June 15, 2023, https://www.samanthasmith.info/foundation