Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Catherine Brown Smith, 1837-1904

Written by Michael Bries, Undergraduate, San Jose State University

President of the San Jose Woman's Club, Vice President of the Pacific Coast Women's Press Club of San Francisco, Director of Associated Charities in San Jose, Director of the Women's Conference of the Unitarian Church, Vice President of the California Woman's Suffrage Association

Catherine S. Brown was born in Cummington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts on April 9th, 1837. She was the daughter of Hiram Brown and Eveline Bradt. In 1859, she married Samuel J. Hillman, a shoemaker from Brookfield, Massachusetts. They had two children together: Edwin and Evaline. Samuel, who had enlisted as a solider during the Civil War, died from typhoid fever while encamped with the Union army in Stafford, Virginia in December of 1862. Catherine and her two young children moved to Elmwood, Illinois where she eventually met and married Edward Owen Smith, Sr. on April 15, 1869. She gave birth to her third child, Kathryne Janette Smith in 1870. Ten years later, she moved to San Jose, California with her husband. Edward Owen Smith served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention before his death in 1892.

After her husband's death, Smith was extremely active in club work and reform activities in San Jose. She served as the president of the San Jose Woman's Club, vice-president of the Pacific Coast Women's Press Club of San Francisco, director of Associated Charities in San Jose, and director of the Women's Conference of the Unitarian Church. In 1893, she served as president of the California Board of Lady Managers, a national commission of women appointed to help plan and organize the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In this role, she helped organize an exhibit about the work of California women at the Chicago World's Fair. In 1901 she was elected as the chairman of a committee of women chosen to welcome President William McKinley to San Jose.

Throughout her life, Smith played a significant role in the women's suffrage movement in California. She was a frequent and popular lecturer on the topic of women's suffrage, speaking at various California suffrage conventions. In 1895, Smith was elected as a vice-president of the California Woman's Suffrage Association and became very active in the unsuccessful 1896 campaign to pass a state suffrage amendment. Smith continued to serve as a leader in the suffrage movement until her death.

Mrs. E.O. Smith died peacefully in her home in San Jose, California on July 23rd, 1904. She was 65 years old.


1.)Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Volume IV, 1883-1900. Rochester, NY: Susan B. Anthony, 1902.

2.)"A Speech at San Jose." New York Times. May 14, 1901, 1.

3.)"California Board of Lady Managers." World's Columbian Exposition Illustrated 3, no. 2 (January 1894): 302.

4.)Guinn, J. M. History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California. Chicago: The Chapman Publishing Company, 1904.

5.)Harvard College Class of 1887. Burlington, VT: Free Press Printing Company, 1907.

6.)"Leading Club Woman Dead." San Francisco Chronicle. July 24, 1904, 20.

7.)Record of the Names of All the Soldiers and Officers in the Military Service and of all the Seamen and Officers in the Naval Service of the United States from the Town of Cummington in Hampshire County, Massachusetts during the Rebellion Begun in 1861. Volume 1. Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).

8.)"Smith, Edward O. Sr." Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. Volume II. Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1918.

9.)"Well-Known Club Woman Passes Away." San Francisco Call. July 24, 1904, 24.

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