Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Acele F. Smith, 1871-1950
By Heather C. Plaisance, Head of Reference and Research Services, Edith Garland Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Acele F. Smith was born Florence Abigail Acele Stevens on April 1, 1871, to R.A. and Mary Ann Stevens. In 1892, she married attorney George Wesley Smith of Illinois. Their son, Waldorf, was born in 1894. In 1898 the family moved from Illinois to the town of Rayville, Louisiana located in Richland Parish where she became not only a pioneer in the woman's suffrage movement in Louisiana but one for women in politics as well. In the 1930s, she and her husband moved to Monroe, Louisiana. After a life filled with personal and professional accomplishments, Acele Smith died on February 3, 1950, at the age of 78.
Smith had a keen interest in politics and played an active role in the fight for women's rights in Louisiana. She participated in the early efforts of the Legislative Committee of the Era Club to amend legislation prohibiting women from serving in any official capacity. In 1913, Smith attended the first state suffrage convention in New Orleans where she was elected First Vice-President of the Louisiana State Woman's Suffrage Association. She also served as President of the association's Jean Gordon Chapter. Her writings in support of woman's suffrage were featured in local newspapers. She traveled to other states on behalf of the movement and was in Nashville to celebrate when Tennessee became the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920.
After women secured the right to vote, Smith was not content to fade into the background. In 1922, she made history by becoming the first woman in Louisiana, and likely the United States, to hold a municipal office. Defeating a field that included eleven male candidates, Smith was elected to serve on Rayville's Board of Aldermen. So satisfactory was her work, she was re-elected without opposition in 1924. She declined to run for a third term in 1926 due to her husband's candidacy for the town's mayor, an office he would win. News of her retirement from public office was published in newspapers as far north as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. During her four years as Alderman, the quality of life for Rayville's citizens was improved as a new sewerage system was installed, the town's electrical and drainage systems were completed and Rayville's overall financial condition was strengthened. She was described as performing her duties as Alderman with “a splendid display of patriotism of civic spirit, co-operation and punctuality.” So respected was she in the Rayville community that a street was named in her honor.
Smith was active in and held numerous club and organization memberships at both the state and local levels. She was a member of the Louisiana Federation of Business and Professional Women's Club and served on its Board of Governors. In 1926, she served as Vice-President from the fifth District of the Louisiana Municipal Association. An accomplished artist and poet, Smith would frequently gift friends her works of art and original poetry. As the art director, she was instrumental in making the Richland Parish Fair a success for many years. Locally she was a member of the Monroe Poetry Society and the Fine Arts Club. She was also a member of Sigma Iota Xi, a national poetry organization. At the honorary fraternity's convention in 1942, Smith was re-elected president for Louisiana and treasurer of the National Sigma Xi.
For her deeds of charity, countless acts of kindness and civic contributions many held Acele Smith in the highest regard.
“Colorful Political Career.” The Richland Beacon-News, January 8, 1944, p. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/25809707/colorful_political_career_of_mrs/
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
“Ink Drops....” The Richland Beacon-News, January 9, 1992, p.10. Newspapers.com
“Mrs. George Wesley Smith Dies.” Richland Beacon-News, February 11, 1950, p.1. Newspapers.com
“The Pelican in Praise of Mrs. Geo. Wesley Smith.” Richland Beacon-News, May 30, 1942, p. 2. Newspapers.com
“Rayville Lady Brings Share of Labor to Monroe Field Where She is Very Highly Appreciated.” Richland Beacon-News, April 5, 1930, p. 5. Newspapers.com
“Rayville's Original Suffrage Worker Retiring Alderman.” Richland Beacon-News, June 19, 1926, p.1. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/17330701/acele-f_a_-smith#view-photo=180077984
“The Suffragists Elect Officers.” The Town Talk, January 15, 1915, p. 1. Newspapers.com
Photograph of Mrs. Acele F. Smith
The Daily Record (Long Branch, New Jersey), September 1, 1926, p.8