The Notable Reynolds Family Members

The Reynolds family, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s, produced a lot of notable family members for varying reasons. I wanted to choose a few family members to discuss their accomplishments, but I had a lot to look through. Here are some options I had to choose from, to name a few:

R.J. Reynolds

Photo of R.J. Reynolds, 1905
R.J. Reynolds, 1905

Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850-1918) possibly needs the least introduction of all. Founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, his tobacco company gained popularity through both Prince Albert and Camel cigarettes, and grew to be a major competitor in the market until joining the Duke’s tobacco trust in 1899. After the trust was broken up in 1911, and R.J.’s death in 1918, his company went on to slowly enter various other markets, including the food industry, buying popular companies such as Nabisco and Del Monte. Today, most of the subsidiaries of the company have been sold off, but RJRT still exists as the second largest tobacco company in the US.

Mary Katharine Smith Reynolds

Mary Katharine holding her son, Smith Reynolds.
Mary Katharine with one of her sons, Smith.

Mary Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880-1924), distant cousin to R.J., married him in 1905. The two had four children together, including Nancy Susan and Zachary Smith, and moved to Winston-Salem, NC upon completion of the Reynolda House construction in 1917, the home which Mary Katharine helped design. Throughout her life she pushed for various reforms in the tobacco industry, which included providing meals and a nursery to the women working in her husband’s factories. After his death, she continued her social work through acting as president of the local YWCA chapter and donating to relief efforts by the Red Cross during World War I. Mary Katharine passed away in 1924 due to complications in childbirth from her second marriage to J. Edward Johnston.

Nancy Susan Reynolds

Nancy Susan Reynolds in 1929
Nancy Susan Reynolds, 1929

Nancy Susan Reynolds (1910-1985) was born to Mary Katharine and R.J. Reynolds. Nancy Susan’s life was dedicated to philanthropy and social development. She created an endowment of $1.7 million for the cultural and social development of Critz, Virginia, including creating a scholarship program for high school students in Patrick County. In 1952, she founded the Nancy Susan Bagley Foundation, now known as the Arca Foundation, a group dedicated to various social justice and philanthropic movements. Nancy Susan is also responsible for deeding a total of 717 acres of land surrounding Rock Spring Plantation to Virginia Tech, renaming it the Reynolds Homestead and allowing the land to be used for historical preservation and agricultural research.

Zachary Smith Reynolds

Zachary Smith Reynolds (1911-1932) was an amateur pilot and the youngest son of R.J. and Mary Katharine. In 1931, Zachary Smith accomplished a 17,000 mile solo journey from London to Hong Kong, which was a record breaking journey at the time. However, Zachary Smith is most noted for his sudden and mysterious death, caused by a gunshot wound following a party at the Reynolda House. The subsequent police investigation became sensational, as conflicting testimonies and suspicions of tampered evidence abounded, until the police charged his wife, Libby Holman, for his murder. The charges were later dropped at the request of the Reynolds family, and it is still unclear whether his death was a murder or a suicide. Today, his share in his father’s tobacco company exists as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, an organization dedicated to social causes in North Carolina.



These are just a few examples of the particularly notable Reynolds family members that have had some impact on the VA-NC area or the entirety of the US. This isn’t even mentioning Richard Reynolds, nephew to R.J. and founder of the Reynolds Metals Company (owners of Reynolds Wrap, the aluminum foil) or Mary Reynolds Babcock, the woman who donated 350 acres of land from the Reynolda House to Wake Forest University so the university would relocate from Wake Forest to Winston-Salem. In other words, you are basically guaranteed to have encountered something the Reynolds family has influenced, and you probably didn’t notice it.

All that is to say that I had a difficult time choosing whom I should talk about in the exhibit. What works do I choose to feature over others, while still presenting a relatively accurate picture of the influence the family had in the US? Eventually, though, I narrowed it down to R.J., Mary Katharine, and Nancy Susan. R.J. was an obvious choice, as the one of the cigarette brands he created not only still exists but is still popular. I chose Mary Katharine because I believe her philanthropic work influenced her children to follow suit and use their wealth to positively influence society, and Nancy Susan I selected as she was the reason I, as a Virginia Tech student and employee, was creating the exhibit in the first place.

Finally, I was close to my end goal with the exhibit. I had done plenty of research, I had plenty of information to work with, and I had the specific items picked out to display. All that was left was organizing the exhibit in a way that told the story I was asked for it to tell.