Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha Nelson McCan, 1867-1933

By Kevin Guzman, Undergraduate, San Jose State University

President Southern California Woman's Press Club, Vice President and President of the Friday Morning Club of Los Angeles, Member of the Political Equality League of Southern California, President of the Civil Service Commission of Los Angeles, Publicity Manager for the Los Angeles Red Cross, Field Representative of the United States Ordnance Department, Planning Commissioner and Park Commissioner in Los Angeles

Martha Nelson Smith was born on June 10, 1867 in Plymouth, Wisconsin to Horatio Nelson Smith and Laura Chase Smith. She was educated in public schools, the Episcopal Church School, and Milwaukee College. In 1886 Martha Smith married George H. Yenowine at the age of nineteen. He died shortly after their marriage. Martha decided to relocate to Los Angeles where she met David Chambers McCan of New Orleans and remarried in 1904.

McCan was very involved in local women's clubs and the fight for the right to vote. She was a member of the Southern California Woman's Press Club from 1909-1911. She served as president for those three years. In 1911 she traveled to San Diego with other members of the board from the Woman's Press Club and helped women organize a San Diego chapter of the club. Later, she became a member of the Friday Morning Club of Los Angeles, serving as vice president in 1911 and president from 1912-1913. She fought for women's suffrage as a director and chairman of the publicity committee for the Political Equality League of Southern California.

In 1912, McCan was appointed to the Civil Service Commission of Los Angeles and became the first woman ever elected President of the commission in 1915. McCan continued to support her community and became superintendent of the woman and girl's division of the Employment Bureau of the Labor Department. Her position as superintendent lasted less than a year before she resigned to begin work as the publicity manager for the Los Angeles Red Cross during World War I. In 1917, McCan traveled to England and France to work with the Red Cross. McCan also went to London to study working conditions and the employment of women in war industries. She also studied how patients were being cared for and the rehabilitation procedures that doctors practiced in order to implement them back home. In 1918 McCan was appointed as the first female field representative of the United States Ordnance Department. Her job was to recruit civil service employees for the Ordnance Department.

After the war, McCan continued her public service as a Planning Commissioner (1921-1923) and later as a Park Commissioner (1922-1925). Even after retiring from her suffrage work and public service, she continued to write short stories, magazine articles, and newsletters.

McCann passed away on November 2, 1933 in Los Angeles, California and is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery.


1.)"Government Builds Big Restaurant." Reading Times. 21 March 1918, 9.

2.)Leonard, John W., editor. Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914.

3.)"Mrs. Mccan Mourned in Final Rites." Los Angeles Times. 5 November 1933, 15.

4.)"Mrs. McCan New Civil Service President." Los Angeles Herald, 2 February 1915.

5.)"Serving the Public." The Los Angeles Times. 27 April 1925, 19.

6.)"Society." Los Angeles Herald. 12 January 1910, 10.

7.)"To Co-operate in Employment Study." Los Angeles Times. 25 January 1917, 18.

8.)"Women Chosen to Recruit Employees for Ordnance." Washington Herald. January 15, 1918, 5.

9.)"Women's Work, Women's Clubs." Los Angeles Times. 24 September 1918, 16.

10.)"Women to Organize." Los Angeles Times. 13 February 1911, 17.

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