Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Martha Pearl Smith Powell, 1882-1965
By Derek Webb, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist, Mississippi University for Women
Educator & Woman Suffrage Activist
Martha Pearl Smith was born on September 25, 1882, in Hickory Withe, Tennessee, the daughter of Joel Henry Smith and Victoria Frances Brooks. She received a Normal certificate from the Peabody Institute in Jackson, Tennessee, and in the early 1900s taught in Eads, Fayette County, Tennessee, with her aunt Mary Elizabeth Brooks Fletcher in her aunt's private school behind her house.
In 1907, Pearl Smith married Calvin Brewster Powell of Virginia and the two relocated to Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, where Mr. Powell was employed as Assistant Secretary and later Comptroller at Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College—now Mississippi State University. While Powell was in Mississippi she earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Mississippi A&M.
After earning her degree, Powell matriculated to Mississippi Industrial Institute and College (II&C)—now Mississippi University for Women—in Columbus, an institution with numerous students and faculty active in suffrage organizations. In 1913, Powell participated in an essay contest making an argument for women's suffrage as part of “woman suffrage day” at the State Fair. She won the medal for first prize over contestants from at least five other colleges in the state. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at the II&C in 1915. That year's yearbook notes the title of her thesis as “The Value of Recreation in Education” and includes a biblical quote: “Whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing.”
Powell then worked as a mathematics instructor at Mississippi A&M during World War I and does not appear to have continued any involvement in suffrage causes. She had several children during her Mississippi years: Patricia Pearl (1909), Frances Brooks (1916), and Catherine Iola (1919) who died in infancy.
Her husband appears to have moved to Kansas City in the 1920s and died there before 1930. Whether Pearl moved there with him is unclear, but she did eventually find her way back to the Memphis, Tennessee, area, where she was living with her brother, Kingston Wyatt Smith, when she died on April 29, 1965.
A photograph of Pearl Powell can be found at the Find A Grave website (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/130310778).
“Calvin Brewster Powell.” Find A Grave website. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/182341172/calvin-brewster-powell.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, p. 332. [LINK]
Lola Putt, Realtor, business webpage. https://www.lolaputt.com/Pages/EadsAreaInformation.aspx
“Martha Pearl Smith Powell.” Find A Grave website. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/130310778.
The Spectator. Columbus: Mississippi Industrial Institute and College, 1915.