Biographical Sketch of Anna Gardiner Smith

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Mrs. Edwin C. Smith, 1880-1962

By Jenna Branch, Undergraduate Student, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI

Vice-President and Legislative Chairman, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Lobbyist, National American Woman Suffrage Association; Legislative Chairman of the Woman's Republican Club and State Federation of Woman's Clubs.

Anna Gardiner Smith was born on July 11, 1880 to Anna “Carrie” (Hill) and George Manton Gardiner in Warwick, RI. George Gardiner variously worked as a carpenter, picture framer, mill manager, and factory manager. In 1903, Anna Gardiner married Edwin C. Smith and they settled in Providence, Rhode Island. During their marriage, Edwin Smith worked as a clerk for a textile company and manager of a mill and a factory, before rising to be vice-president and treasurer of a machine company. The Smiths had one child, a daughter named Marjorie born in 1908.

Anna Smith, who went by “Mrs. Edwin C. Smith,” was active in the Rhode Island suffrage movement by 1913 and was most influential as the chairman of congressional and legislative committee of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). Her husband, Edwin C. Smith was also a supporter of woman suffrage and signed a petition to the United States House of Representatives in 1914. As legislative chairman, Anna Smith was in charge of getting support from the Rhode Island legislators for the federal amendment that would allow women to vote. Following her role as chairman, she became a vice president of the RIESA.

Rhode Island granted women the right to vote in presidential elections in 1917. Smith stood next to Rhode Island Governor Beeckman as he signed the suffrage bill and he gifted her a pen used in the signing in acknowledgment of her contribution to its success. The law was a significant victory for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association and Smith's legislative committee. Rhode Island suffragist Sara L. G. Fittz, in an overview of how the presidential suffrage bill had been achieved, applauded Smith for her work in “helping to secure the favorable indorsement from the Representatives in Washington...and the indorsement of the Republican State central commission.” When the bill passed, Smith told The Providence Journal, “I am delighted at the result, and desire to thank the men who stood so loyally back of us. I am also much pleased that it was a non-partisan matter and that the women were given fair play.” Smith was also a witness to Rhode Island ratifying the woman suffrage amendment in January 1920, once again standing next to Governor Beeckman as he signed the bill.

Smith actively supported the American war effort during World War I, in line with the national strategy of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She assisted in campaigns to enroll men in the military in Rhode Island. On June 5, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson announced “Registration Day” and appealed to American men to volunteer in the military. Smith heard reports that towns in Rhode Island had not received the president's message and she and suffragist Mildred Glines acquired a car and delivered bundles of the military message to Rhode Island citizens. Smith also served on the Woman's Committee on National Defense during the war.

As a result of her legislative experiences and skills in Rhode Island, NAWSA leaders sent Smith to Washington D.C. on several occasions in 1917, 1918, and 1919 to lobby for women's right to vote nationally. While in Washington, Mrs. Smith worked to “help the Federal Amendment through the House of Representatives.” The assignment from the national association showed how well respected Smith was for her legislative skills as political lobbying was an important strategy used by the NAWSA leaders as they worked with the political system in order to reform it. In addition to her lobbying, while in Washington D.C. in 1917, Smith gave several lectures on the topic of “How We Won Presidential Suffrage in Rhode Island.”

Smith was involved in political and social activism beyond just woman suffrage. As was common with many NAWSA suffragists, she believed that women voters could help accomplish many social reform goals. In particular, Smith was committed to the issue of child welfare and worked on numerous committees about it in the state of Rhode Island, including as chairman of child welfare for the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association. As child welfare chairman, Smith was reported to have “devoted every day last summer [1918] to the baby weighing movement.” She also helped draft legislation establishing a child welfare department in Rhode Island.

Like many other suffragists, following the suffrage victory, Smith became a strong supporter of the Republican Party. She was an early and dedicated member of the Woman's Republican Club in Rhode Island and served as chairman of the speakers' bureau of the Rhode Island Republican Party. In recognition of her valuable service to the Republican Party, in 1928 Smith and her daughter were invited to the White House to meet with President Calvin Coolidge. Smith also tried to get women elected in Rhode Island. In 1930, she supported Mrs. Mary Colt Gross, president of the Woman's Republican Club, in her unsuccessful effort to run for state senator. Smith endorsed her candidacy, declaring that the “position of senator from the first senatorial district of Providence could well be filled by a woman of the political training and experience of Mary Colt Gross.”

Smith continued to use the legislative experience she gained working for the woman suffrage movement. She served as legislative chairman for both the State Federation of Women's Clubs and the Woman's Republican Club. In 1922, Smith reflected on the two-year anniversary of the ratification of woman suffrage. She believed engaged, educated women voters performed a valuable service in American politics. She explained, “I have sometimes felt that good measures were lost because the women who were working for them, while believing in the principles, did not have accurate, up-to-date detailed information about conditions in our own State. The careful, intelligent study that women are now giving to all community problems will be the greatest service to the State, and incidentally, to the women themselves.” Smith actively participated in efforts to educate Rhode Island women for their new roles as voters and gave public lectures on various topics related to politics and government. As part of her legislative agenda, Smith supported efforts for the Sheppard-Towner maternal and infant health bill, women's legal and civil rights, prohibition, penal reform, and Americanization policies.

Anna Smith died June 8, 1962. Her obituary in The Providence Journal heralded her as a “suffragette pioneer” and noted that “it was largely through her efforts as chairman of the legislative committee of the Equal Suffrage Association that women in Rhode Island won the right to vote.”

 

Governor signing Rhode Island presidential woman suffrage bill, April 18, 1917. Left to Right: Unidentified woman, Mrs. George W. Parks, Mabel Orgelman, Senator Henry B. Kane, Mrs. Barton P. Jenks, Governor Livingston Beeckman, Elizabeth Upham Yates, Mrs. Edwin C. Smith, Nettie E. Bauer, Representative Richard W. Jennings, Mildred Glines.

A.G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.

A cropped verszion of this photograph appeared in A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.

A very similar photo of this signing cere4mony also appeared in Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925), 7.

 

“What Two Years of Woman Suffrage Have Done,” Providence Sunday Journal, August 13, 1922.

A larger version of this photo appeared in “Educating Women to Be Intelligent Voters,” The Providence Journal, February 24, 1918

 

“Governor Beekman, Prominent Woman Suffrage Workers and General Assembly Leaders Land Passage of Bill by Rhode Island Legislature,” The Providence Journal, April 18, 1917.

Sources:

Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]

Sara M. Algeo, The Story of a Sub-Pioneer (Providence, RI: Snow & Farnham Co., 1925).

“Report of the Legislative Committee, 1919-1920,” Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association records, 1868-1930, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.

Anna G. Smith, Findagrave.com [https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/101922292]

“Governor Beekman, Prominent Woman Suffrage Workers and General Assembly Leaders Land Passage of Bill by Rhode Island Legislature,” The Providence Journal, April 18, 1917.

“Several Million Americans Enroll for War Service; Quiet Prevails,” The Providence Daily Journal, June 6, 1917.

Sara L. G. Fittz, “How We Won Suffrage,” The Providence Sunday Journal, April 29, 1917.

“Educating Women to Be Intelligent Voters,” The Providence Journal, February 24, 1918.

“A Half Century of Suffrage,” The Providence Sunday Journal, June 1, 1919.

“What Two Years of Woman Suffrage Have Done,” Providence Sunday Journal, August 13, 1922.

“Women Political Leaders in State: Mrs. Edwin C. Smith,” TheProvidence Journal. October, 1922.

“Mrs. Gross Wins Voters' Support,” The Providence Journal, October 1, 1930.

A. G. Spencer, History of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI.

Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Jubilee Convention (1869-1919) (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1919).

Helen M. Winslow, The Register and Directory of Women's Clubs in America, Volume 24 (Boston, MA: Helen M. Winslow, 1922.

1940; Census Place: Providence, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: m-t0627-03773; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 6-19

Ancestry.com. New York, New York, Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

1910; Census Place: Providence Ward 2, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: T624_1442; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0165; FHL microfilm: 1375455

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