Biographical Sketch of Frances Smith Whiteside

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Mrs. Frances Smith Whiteside, 1854-1929

By Robin O. Harris, PhD., Professor Emeritus, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA

Prominent Atlanta educator. A founding member of the Georgia Auxiliary of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association. Only president of the Georgia Woman's Suffrage League. Active in Atlanta's Daughter of the American Revolution, and the Atlanta Woman's Club.

Frances Smith Whiteside (1854-1929), prominent in Atlanta educational and civic endeavors, became actively involved with the Georgia Auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association upon the organization's founding in 1895. In 1913, she became president of the newly-formed Georgia Woman's Suffrage League (GWSL), holding that office until the achievement of woman's suffrage. When the enfranchising of women first received serious consideration in a Georgia Legislative Session on July 6, 1914, Whiteside gave the first suffrage speech delivered there by a woman. She described Georgia suffragists as "not militant agitators" yet nevertheless wanting the right to vote and declared woman's suffrage as "inevitable." Whiteside predicted suffrage states as "soon hold[ing] a balance of power in the electoral college." The legislators listened "with much interest and attention" and applauded heartily at the end of her speech.

Frances Smith Whitehall was the sister of Georgia United States Senator Hoke Smith, an adamant and unrelenting opponent of woman's suffrage who remarked: "Our best women do not want it." His position seemed to have no effect on his sister who actively participated in frequent suffrage rallies and other events, including a pilgrimage to Washington, D. C. in 1913. At that time, she served as Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Atlanta Civic League, formed in 1904, precursor to the GWSL, which focused on attracting working men and women in favor of female suffrage through rallies and letter-writing campaigns. The GWSL held regular meetings that included interesting talks from local and national suffragists, as well as other prominent and informative speakers, along with other forms of entertainment, and frequently included time for questions from the invited public in attendance. Whiteside, in her role as teacher, then long-time principal of the Ivy Street School, also facilitated district-wide campaigns to provide school-age children with information about suffrage through essay contests and other initiatives.

Frances Smith Whiteside spent twenty-five years working to achieve suffrage for women. She never feared taking such a controversial position even with her professional career on the line, and in opposition to family members. Whiteside knew that for women to influence working conditions and social concerns they must secure the vote. On the day women first legally registered to vote, she stood second in line in Atlanta only behind the president of the Atlanta Equal Suffrage party. Georgia women rarely evinced such long-time commitment to suffrage; thus Frances Smith Whiteside deserves recognition and appreciation for her unflagging endeavors on behalf of voting rights for women.

Sources:

Much of the information in this sketch derived from multiple issues of the Atlanta Constitution, 1895-1929. Quotes and other information come from A. Elizabeth Taylor," The Last Phase of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Georgia, Georgia Historical Quarterly 43/1 (March 1959), and "Women's Suffrage Activities in Atlanta," Atlanta History Journal 23 (1979), as well as Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6. [LINK]

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