Nellie Nugent Somerville (1863-1952)

Born in the midst of the Civil War, Nellie Nugent had a hard childhood:  before she was seven, she had lost her mother, stepmother, and a grandfather shot by soldiers when their plantation home was burned.  Nonetheless, she was able to attend local Whitworth College, where teachers described Nellie as "too smart for them to teach."  She moved on to Martha Washington College, graduated in 1880, and married Robert Somerville five years later.

   

Living in Greenville, Nellie Somerville became an officer of the Mississippi Women's Christian Temperance Union and was a founder of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association in 1897 – the nation's last such body to form.  Her presidency of that led to her to national conventions, and in 1915, she was elected as a vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  She also was treasurer of the Southern Woman Suffrage Association, a regional coalition founded in 1913.     When all American women won the vote with the federal 19th Amendment in 1920, she took the very first opportunity to run for the Mississippi House, and Greenville voters elected her.  Like most female legislators, she championed education and successfully sponsored a bill to establish Delta State Teachers College.  Somerville was less successful in her attempt to ban child labor, as new textile mills continued to hire children (mostly white) as fulltime workers. 

 

  Nellie Nugent Somerville served only 1923-1927, but is unique in being the first female legislator to have a child follow in her footsteps.  Lucy Somerville Howorth, also of Greenville, was elected to the Mississippi House in 1932.  Because of her mother’s influence, Howorth was a well-educated attorney -- a profession that she could not have practiced without the work of feminists.