Mellcene Thurman Smith (c.1872-1957)
Mellcene Thurman was born in Missouri to John and Cecelia Thurman. It is believed that she was born in 1872, although she concealed her age. She attended various schools in St. Joseph and Kansas City and was interested in a musical career. After marrying Edward T. Smith and moving to Kansas City, Missouri, she worked for the Havens Structural Steel Company during the day and studied law at the Kansas City School of Law at night. Her hard work paid off when she was awarded her J.D. in 1922 – only a few months prior to her election to the legislature.
A law class debate on women's fitness to hold office had such a powerful effect that she ran for the Missouri House, and with support from friends in the new League of Women Voters, she won. A Democrat from St. Louis County, Smith said at the time of her election: "I do not intend to drape my feet over the top of a desk in the Capitol building. And I am determined not to spatter the walls of the place with tobacco juice." Her husband was not impressed with the Jefferson City capitol: when he visited her there, he declared, "And this is what you left your home for?"
During her one term in office, Smith sponsored bills to license boarding houses, ban child labor and make school attendance mandatory, and increase funds for women's prisons. Probably too liberal for her time, she lost her 1924 re-election bid. She returned to her social causes, which varied from the Church Peace Union to the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sunday-school teaching. Mellcene Thurman Smith died on June 21, 1957 at the age of 85.
Image credit: Missouri Women's Council.