Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Lucy Wilmot Smith, 1861-1890


By Karen Cotton McDaniel, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus, Kentucky State University.

Teacher, journalist

Lucy Wilmot Smith’s lived “by voice and pen.” Smith was born in Lexington, Kentucky on November 16, 1861, to Margaret Smith, who was most likely an enslaved woman. In 1877, at the age of sixteen, she graduated from the teacher preparatory division (normal department) at Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. Immediately she began her career as a teacher supporting both herself and her mother. After the Institute became State Colored Baptist University (today known as Simmons College of Kentucky), she served as personal secretary to Dr. William J. Simmons, the university’s President, while continuing to teach. Smith along, with Mary V. Cook (later Parrish), was a leading organizer of the Baptist Women's Educational Convention of Kentucky, which began in 1883. Smith was instrumental in the organization, serving on the Board of Managers and as the Secretary of Children’s Band, an auxiliary of the Baptist women’s group. Also, she was chair of the Women’s Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention in Kentucky. In 1885, Smith returned to the State Colored Baptist University as a financial clerk and city missionary to the Young Men’s and Women’s Christian Association, where she also served as President. Two years later she became a professor at State University and served as historian at the American National Baptist Convention (ANBC).

At the age of twenty-five, Smith addressed the ANBC in St. Louis in August 1886 on the topic of women’s career options. Her speech titled, "The Future Colored Girl," pointed to the limited career options for the black woman and recommended, young women seek self-employment in the areas of poultry-keeping, small-fruit raising, dairying, lecturing, photography, and medicine. Smith further suggested that medicine was also an area which women should focus their efforts, writing, "I think all surgical operations on women should be performed only by women" intimating that women were best suited to care for other women. Additionally, she encouraged women to pursue journalism, saying, "We need papers and magazines edited by women for women."

Smith herself worked as a journalist and was a member of the Afro-American Press Convention. She served as editor of the Women and Women’s Department in Our Women and Children and contributed to such newspapers as the Indianapolis Freeman, the Journalist (New York), and the Boston Advocate where she advocated for women’s suffrage and equality. On the topic of woman’s suffrage she said, “It is said by many that women do not want the ballot. We are not sure that the 15,000,000 of voting age would say this; and if they did, majorities do not always establish the right of a thing. Our position is that women should have the ballot, not as a matter of expediency, but as a matter of pure justice.”

Dying in 1890, at the age of twenty- nine she left a written legacy which advocated for woman’s suffrage, alternate career opportunities, and equality for women. Mary V. Cook (later Parrish) eulogized Smith’s life as follows:

“She was connected with all the leading interests of her race and denomination. Her pen and voice always designated her position so clearly that no one need mistake her motive. .... Her highest ambition, and that to which she bent her energies, was to elevate woman to a moral, Christian standard, that better homes might be established, a higher type of boys and girls might be reared, and that the world might be made better by having good and noble women in it.”


Cook, Mary. "Eulogy for Lucy Smith." Home Mission Echo 6.1 (1890): 4-5.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Penn, I. Garland. The Afro-American Press and Its Editors. Springfield, MA: Willey and Co., 1891. 376-381.

Smith, Lucy Wilmot. "The Future Colored Girl." Minutes and Addresses of the American National Baptist Convention, St. Louis, MO, Aug. 25-29, 1886. Jackson, MS: Spelman, 1887. 68-74.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Monroe Majors, Noted Negro Women
Women of Distinction

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