Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Julia Holmes Smith, 1838-1930

By Mary Osborne, museum specialist, The Stewart House, Monmouth, Illinois

Dean, National Medical College; Director, Illinois Training School for Nurses; Co-Founder, Illinois Women's Press Association; President, Illinois Women's Democratic League; Trustee, University of Illinois; President, Chicago Woman's Club

Julia Holmes Smith was born on December 27, 1838, in Savannah, Georgia, to Willis Holmes and Margaret Manning Turner. Smith grew up in New Orleans, where she was tutored privately. In 1856, she graduated from The Abbott Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies in New York. There she met Waldo Abbott, the nephew of the principal Gorham Abbott. Waldo and Julia married in 1860, but he died just four years later of yellow fever. To earn a living, Julia taught school and reviewed plays for The Picayune.

In 1872, she married merchant Sabin Smith and relocated to Boston the following year. She enrolled in the Boston University School of Medicine and completed two years of coursework. She also studied medicine privately with a physician in New York. In 1876, Smith moved to Chicago, where she finished her medical degree at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College in 1877. She specialized in general medicine and gynecology and lectured on women's diseases. She later started a clinic for underprivileged women at Dwight Moody's Chicago Avenue Church. Smith also authored a number of articles published in homeopathic medical journals. Her medical knowledge combined with her teaching solidified her reputation as a respected woman physician. She was known for her work among the poor and for her suffrage activities with the Association for the Advancement of Women.

Smith maintained a wide variety of interests, and in 1886, she helped establish the Illinois Women's Press Association (IWPA). Its first organizational meeting occurred in Smith's Chicago home. She modeled the IWPA after the National Women's Press Association, which was founded at the New Orleans Exposition. The IWPA created a network of women writers and helped them to secure better representation. In 1898, she served as the first female dean of the National Medical College and directed the Illinois Training School for Nurses. In 1895, Governor John Altgeld appointed her as the first female trustee of the University of Illinois. She served on the university's instruction and finance committees and chaired the student's welfare committee. When her term ended, she ran for reelection three times as the Democratic Party candidate but was unsuccessful.

Smith retired from medical practice at the age of seventy-eight. On November 10, 1930, she died from myocarditis at the age of ninety-one in Winnetka, Illinois.


"Woman's Gift for Debate," The Daily Inter Ocean, Oct. 18, 1879, 9;

"Woman Suffrage," The Daily Inter Ocean, November 5, 1886, 5.

"Dr. Julia Holmes Smith," The Illustrated American, November 15, 1890, 436.

"United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 January 2018), Julia H Smith in household of Lilly Bagley, Oak Park Precinct 7, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing ED 148, sheet 6B, line 92, family 182, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 361; FHL microfilm 1,820,361.

"Find A Grave Index," database, FamilySearch ( : 21 June 2017), Julia Holmes Smith, 1930; Burial, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America, Graceland Cemetery; citing record ID 179680099, Find a Grave,

Cook, Marlene. "So We May All Be Heard." PenPoints (May 2006). Illinois Woman's Press Association, accessible at

Davidson, Jonathan. A Century of Homeopaths: Their Influence on Medicine and Health. New York: Springer, 2014.

"Emerging Influence: The History of the Illinois Woman's Press Association," accessible at

"Julia Holmes Smith," Her Hat Was in the Ring! US Women Who Ran for Political Office Before 1920, accessible at

King, William Harvey. History of Homeopathy, accessible at

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