Biographical Sketch of Katherine Smith

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Katherine Smith, 1868-1942

By Julia Thompson, Holocaust Center for Humanity, Seattle, WA

Seattle suffragist and community leader

Katherine Smith was a suffragist active and prominently known in the Seattle area during Washington State's battle for woman suffrage.

Smith was born Katherine Robitzer on February 9, 1868 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to John P. Robitzer, a Union veteran of the Civil War and an artist, and Rosana (Lappe) Robitzer. Smith married George A. Smith, from Iowa, around 1885 and they subsequently moved to Denver, Colorado, where George practiced law. Their daughter Georgia was born there in 1886. While in Colorado, where women had the vote starting in 1893, Smith "saw how much good the women were able to do....They have supported so many measures for the improvement of [Denver] and the betterment of its people," she was quoted saying later, in 1910.

In 1904 the family moved to Seattle, living on Alki Point in West Seattle, the area in town first settled by white pioneers in the 1850s. While Mr. Smith was a sometimes-attorney and also worked in real estate, Mrs. Smith devoted her time to the general advancement of women in society, becoming active shortly after her move in women's clubs in West Seattle. Several years later, 1909 was a turning point for Smith's activism and involvement with the suffrage movement. This occurred along with other Washington State suffragists' ramping-up of their efforts ahead of a November 1910 state referendum for the women's vote. In a Seattle Daily Times article of January 29, 1909, Smith was interviewed after she "returned from Olympia, where for some days past she has been an energetic lobbyist for the passage of the suffrage bill... Listening to her talk suffrage will convince anybody that it would take a might hardened and heartless state senator to refuse to vote for the enfranchisement of women."

When state suffrage leaders pushed for local clubs to form, and aid in the extensive work to be done, Smith helped found the Alki (Point) Suffrage Club in June 1909. The following July, she attended the National American Woman Suffrage Association's annual convention, held in Seattle. This brought her closer into contact with national suffragists as well as other Washingtonians. In less than a year, the Alki Suffrage Club had already become a success story, and the high-profile Spokane-based suffragist May Arkwright Hutton called it "one of the largest and most influential clubs of the West Side." By fall of 1910, Smith had become somewhat well-known in Seattle, with numerous profiles and articles in the local newspapers. She also had her own occasional editorial column in the Seattle Star. Interviewed in October 1910 in that same periodical just weeks before the seminal vote, Smith was confident they would win the suffrage "‘hands down.'" "‘If [men] are just,'" she said, "‘they will see that it is their duty [to vote yes].'" Indeed, her prediction came to pass, with Washington voters approving woman suffrage by a rate of nearly two to one.

After the Washington victory, Smith continued her work for other state suffrage battles and for woman suffrage nationally. In 1911 she consulted with Hutton and California suffragists on strategies for that state, and spent time in San Francisco to assist. Smith participated in the NAWSA's national conventions in 1911 through 1915, at the least, and reported at the 1911 convention in Louisville on the "Washington Victory" during aptly named "Jubilee Night." At the 1912 convention, Smith successfully moved to transform the Alki Suffrage Club, which she had led since 1909, into the new Washington Suffrage League, the state's auxiliary of NAWSA. Also as of 1912, Smith became a NAWSA life member (one of just six such members from Washington at the time, along with the likes of suffrage powerhouses Hutton and Emma Smith DeVoe).

Once national suffrage was achieved, Smith continued to be involved heavily in her community. She was part of the Woman's Century Club, the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs in 1920 and beyond, led the Alki Women's Improvement Club in 1934 and the Alki Beach Improvement Club in 1940, and others. Smith devoted much of her adult life to women's and social activism. Katherine Smith died in Seattle in 1942.

"Some day when women vote in Washington," Marion Lowe began his October 10, 1910 profile of Smith in the Seattle Star, "and we have women governors and women councilmen and women chiefs of police -- maybe we'll build a statue in Pioneer Square to Mrs. George A. Smith and other Seattle suffragists." Although today in 2018, Seattle has city councilwomen, a woman chief of police, and Washington State has had woman governors, no such statue exists. The community has clearly forgotten about Smith. Her hard work and leadership, though largely unknown, at least lives on in the ardent political activism of so many women in the Seattle area.

 

Katherine Smith pictured in the Seattle Daily Times, January 29, 1909. (Complete citation below.)

 

Katherine Smith pictured in the Seattle Star, October 10, 1910 (Complete citation below.)

Sources

Bagley, Charles. History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Volume II. S. J. Clarke Publishing Company: Seattle, 1916. 499-500.

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5, Volume V. B. Singerly, State Printer: Harrisburg, 1871. 906, 1183.

Brantigan, Clarence O., ed. The 1887 Denver Directory Volume III: Statistical Abstract of Denver in 1887. Canzona Publications: Denver, 2002. https://history.denverlibrary.org/sites/history/files/1887_denver_directory_v3.pdf.

"Census of the Inhabitants in Allegheny City." 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Allegheny County, U.S. Census Bureau. Ancestry.com.

"Census of the Inhabitants of Seattle City." 1910 U.S. Federal Census, King County, U.S. Census Bureau. Washington State Archives, Digital Archives. https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/004CD2EE35CB72EFD69A9F0BED8D338D.

"Council is Urged to Rebuild Park Canyon Bridge." Seattle Daily Times. September 24, 1934: 4. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/image/v2:127D718D1E33F961@EANX-1297314BE3ED255D@2427493-128E41583675E165@3?p=AMNEWS.

"If they Build a Statue to Mrs. Geo. A. Smith They'll Have to Show Her in Picture Hat and Plume." Marion Lowe. Seattle Star. October 10, 1910: 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87093407/1910-10-10/ed-1/seq-4/.

May Arkwright Hutton to Mrs. Catherine Smith. December 31, 1910. Spokane, WA. Hutton Collection, Box 4: Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

National American Woman Suffrage Association Proceedings. 1911-1915. Library of Congress. https://archive.org/details/nationalamerican00pro.

"Past Members." The Woman's Century Club. http://www.womanscenturyclub.org/history/archive/past-members/.

"Seattle Woman Who Is Working for Suffrage." Seattle Daily Times. January 29, 1909: 1. NewsBank. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/image/v2:127D718D1E33F961@EANX-NB-128904DEE52A67A8@2418336-12890413B105C17D@0-12890413B105C17D@?p=AMNEWS.

University of Washington Special Collections, curators. "A Ballot for the Ladies: Washington Women's Struggle for the Vote (1850-1910)." (2010). http://content.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/suffrageindex.html.

"‘Women Will Vote.'" Spokane Chronicle. May 31, 1910. Emma Smith DeVoe Scrapbooks, page 151. WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 16. Washington State Library. http://primarilywashington.org/items/show/24016.

"Women's Suffrage Movement." Colorado Encyclopedia. https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/womens-suffrage-movement.

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