Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Nancy W. Paine Smith, 1859-1940

Katie Corbett
MA student, University of New Hampshire

Nancy Wiley Paine was born on September 1, 1859 to Joshua Paine and his second wife, Martha Freeman Atwood, in Provincetown, MA. Little else is known about her early life beyond her marriage in 1889 to photographer William W. Smith, and the birth of the couple's only child, William G. Smith, a year later. However, her decision to pursue an advanced education beyond what was typical for women at the time demonstrated her love of learning and her commitment to giving all women equal access to educational opportunities. Her fascination with her own family's history was the first indication of her love of learning. Her discovery of a relative who participated in the American Revolution enabled her to join the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1892.

Additionally, she decided to enroll in Tufts University's College of Theology in order to obtain a degree as a clergywoman in the Unitarian Church. When she graduated from the program in 1896, she joined the ranks of a new generation of female pastors in the Unitarian faith. Beginning in the early 1800s, the Unitarian Church was more open to the idea of social equality for women than any other religion at the time. The Church embraced the idea of educating women in the faith and encouraged their acceptance as members of the clergy.

Inspired by these teachings, Nancy W. Paine Smith – as part of her service assignment for the next several years – relocated her family from Provincetown, MA to Newfields, NH. It was in Newfields that she fully embraced the growing suffrage movement, becoming an avid advocate both inside women's suffrage circles and in her own community. When she was not locating churches willing to host suffrage meetings, Nancy was an active participant at these rallies, often acting as a guest speaker. At the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association in 1905, Smith was one of the featured speakers.

In addition to her commitment to the suffrage movement, Nancy's educational aspirations did not end with her graduation from Tufts College. Her presence is noted in 1905 among the names registered in Harvard University's Theology Summer School.

Even after her assignment in Newfields was over, Nancy did not shy away from the public light. A fervent lover of her hometown until her death in 1940, Nancy wrote several books about the history of Provincetown and the variety of seasonal artist colonies which called the tip of Cape Cod home for as long as she had. Two of her books, The Provincetown Book (1922) and A Book about the Artists: Who They Are, What They Do, Where They Live, How They Look (1927), are still regarded as some of the best histories of Provincetown and its inhabitants.


Information about Nancy W. Paine Smith's birth and parents can be found on her birth record, which can be found in the "Birth Records: 1840 – 1915" section of Information about her marriage, her husband's occupation, and her child is available in the 1900 census on Information about her induction as a Unitarian minister can be found in Richard Eddy's The Universalist Register: Giving Statistics of the Universalist Church and other Denominational Information, etc. for 1903 (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1903), available online through

Information about the Unitarian faith can be found on the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Information about her involvement with the DAR can be found online, at Information about her attendance at Harvard University's summer school can be found in the Harvard University Catalogue, 1905-1906. Information about her books can be found on the website of the Provincetown History Preservation, available at

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