Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists 1890-1920

Biography of Nannette E. G. Smith, 1828- 1900

By Henry Laste, student, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI

Nannette Ellingwood Gardner Smith was the first woman to register and vote in the state of Michigan. Her successful argument in 1871 to the enrolling officer of the polling place, Peter Hill, was that as a widow, she was taxed without representation (1). This being the case, Hill allowed Nannette to vote but not her friend Catherine Stebbins-- who, as argued by Hill, was represented by her living husband.

Nannette was born to Dane and Catherine Ellingwood in New Hampshire in 1828 (2). Coming from relatively modest means, the Ellingwood estate as estimated by the 1870 census was valued at a combined $1,700. In the year 1858, she married Miles T. Gardner, a 'seedsman' as described by the census-- a seed salesman (3, 4). Compared to Nannette's parents, Miles Gardner was much more wealthy. The census in 1860 valued his estate at a combined $7000. The couple had two children-- Sarah and Miles. Both children followed Nannette when Miles Gardner dies in the year 1867 (6). The 1870 census shows that Nannette and her children moved back into her parents' home-- she was listed as a member of the household along with her children (2).

At some point, Nannette ends up with her children in the household of a Benjamin Smith Jr.-- a wealthy individual listed on the census in different years as a plaster manufacturer and a merchant (7, 8). The value of his holdings in 1870, as estimated by the census, sat at about $52,000. Nannette, in the 1880 census is listed as his sister-in-law and as a housekeeper-- with the only other members of the household being her two children. At least at the time of her voting in the election on March 25th, 1871, she had not remarried-- as the basis of her argument maintains; however, her death certificate in 1900 lists her as Nannette Ellingwood Gardner Smith (1, 9). This being the case means she married into the family of Benjamin Smith Sr. at some point in her life. Most likely, this occurred between 1871 and 1880-- these are the years that, as stated above, she moved into the wealthy household as Smith Jr.'s sister-in-law. Additionally, she is listed in History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 3 with her 1871 vote as Nannette Gardner, not Nannette Smith. An Ann Arbor city directory has a single Nannette Smith living in the city, with a George Smith listed as her late spouse (10). It is possible that this is correct, but death certificates and census documents from the time do not confirm that this is the way Nannette married into the family.

Regardless of her entry into the family, Nannette's name does not show up in newspapers or in the History of Woman Suffrage volumes outside of her being the first woman to cast a vote in Michigan. Further research should be done upon her possible connections to suffrage groups-- it is possible she has been overlooked in regards to her influence on the movement. Research into Nannette's relationship with Catherine Stebbins, the Smith family, and Michigan suffrage movements could yield information on Nannette's impact on the suffrage movement.

Nannette Gardner Smith died in July 1900 in Ann Arbor and was buried in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y.


1. Anthony, Susan B., ed. 1886. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 3, pp. 522-23.

2. Year: 1870; Census Place: Romulus, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: M593_710; Page: 374B; Family History Library Film: 552209. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

3. Year: 1860; Census Place: Detroit Ward 5, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: M653_565; Page: 462; Family History Library Film: 803565. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

4. Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp. Michigan Marriages, 1851-1875.

5. Year: 1880; Census Place: Alabaster, Iosco, Michigan; Roll: 584; Page: 367C; Enumeration District: 144

6. Find A Grave, memorial page for Miles T Gardner (31 Jan 1807 - Jul 1867), Find A Grave Memorial no. 32093102, citing Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, Monroe County, New York, USA; Maintained by Daryl VerStreate (contributor 46552263), ( : accessed 18 November 2019)

7. Year: 1880; Census Place: Alabaster, Iosco, Michigan; Roll: 584; Page: 367C; Enumeration District: 144. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

8. Year: 1870; Census Place: Alabaster, Iosco, Michigan; Roll: M593_677; Page: 694B; Family History Library Film: 5521761870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

9.Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Death Records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan.

10. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

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