Caroline Smith Isham

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Caroline Smith Isham, 1878-1969

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Caroline (sometimes rendered Carrie or Caddie) Smith, daughter of Moses and Martha Smith, was born in Virginia in April 1878. Her father worked in a tobacco factory. In 1900 the census recorded her as a student at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, where her future husband, Charles S. Isham, a Chippewa Indian, was also a student. Charles completed three years at Hampton and Caroline two. The couple married in 1903 and the 1910 census found them both working for the Hampton Institute, Caroline as a teacher and Charles as an electrician. He subsequently taught and served as chairman of the Electrical Department until he retired in 1944.

The couple continued to live on the grounds of Hampton Institute between 1920 and 1940, with Charles working as a teacher and Caroline with no listed occupation. They did not have any children.

In the fall of 1920 Caroline went to register to vote on the first night, but was rebuffed by a white registrar. Asked numerous questions intended to disqualify her, she "asked the registrar why she was being asked so many questions when the white teachers registered in just a few minutes. Whereupon the registrar sent her home." She came back a few days later with her friend Annie Pride Washington to try again to register. The registrar "boldly told Mrs. Washington that he did not intend to be bothered with a lot of colored women. They intended to just let a few register." Their persistence paid off, however, and Washington and Isham were among those Black women who succeeded in registering to vote.

Caroline Isham passed away in Lynchburg, VA in September 1969. Her husband predeceased her in August 1948.


Brent Tarter, Marianne E. Julienne and Barbara C. Batson, The Campaign for Woman Suffrage in Virginia (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2020), 48-49 and 147.

"'Really and Truly a Citizen': Virginia Women Register to Vote in 1920," online at

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Virginia: 1880, Carrie Smith; 1900, Carrie Smith and Chas S. Isham in Hampton Institute; 1910-1940, Charles and Caroline (Caddie). Accessed in Ancestry Library Edition.

Death records for Caroline and Charles Sumner Isham, accessed in Ancestry Library Edition.

Obituary for Charles Isham, Newport News Daily Press, 25 August 1948, p. 9.

Marriage record, Caddie L. Smith and Chas. S. Isham, 1903, accessed in Ancestry Library Edition.

Paulette Fairbanks Mollin, "Training the Hand, the Head, and the Heart: Indian Education at Hampton Institute:" accessed online at

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