Despite the stereotype that the elderly are the age group most opposed to societal progress, a 97-year-old male named Stephen Smith was a strong supporter of women’s voting rights in 1920.
He traced his evolution on the issue to his time at Geneva Medical College in 1847, when Elizabeth Blackwell enrolled as the first women in American history to receive a medical degree. As Smith told it:
Geneva Medical College was made up of the rowdiest lot of young ruffians it has ever been my good fortune to meet. I was one of them, so my saying this is all right… So greatly did they manage to disturb the community, that a petition was signed by the people and submitted to the authorities asking that the college be closed as a public nuisance.
There was a distinct change in the manners of the school from that day. Miss Blackwell, a little Quaker woman, with all the pluck in the world, changed that howling mob of boys into a lot of well-mannered, respectful young men. Not the least of her effect on the school was her influence on the instructors.
This, in turn, prompted Smith to reconsider women’s effects in other previously all-male institutions, such as voting.
My turning suffragist dates back to that period. If one woman without any conscious effort could accomplish that reform in that school of rascals, think what a country of enlightened women can accomplish once they set their minds to it!
The 19th Amendment guaranteed women’s right to vote in August 1920, four months later. Smith would live to see that momentous change, eventually dying in August 1922 at age 99.
Nonagenarian Suffragist: Dr. Steven Smith, at the Age of 97, Tells of His Conversion to Women’s Progress
Published: Sunday, April 11, 1920