Frances Gordon Smith: General’s daughter, WWI dietitian.


Frances Gordon Smith, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Atlanta in August 1872, Frances Gordon was a daughter of Fanny Haralson Gordon and John Brown Gordon—Confederate general, Georgia governor, and U.S. senator. Her sister, Caroline Lewis Gordon Brown, became active in civic affairs in Berlin, NH. Her brother, Frank, served as a major in the Spanish American War. Her nephew, Kilbourn Gordon, was a Broadway writer, producer, and director (his works include the play Kongo, aka the Lon Chaney film West of Zanzibar).

In June 1888 she married lawyer R. Burton Smith, a brother of Georgia senator Hoke Smith. They had two children: a daughter, Hildreth (who married Caroline’s brother-in-law), and a son, Gordon (who drowned at age 20 in 1909 while on an engineering assignment in Panama). Dewey Grantham’s Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South reports that Burton Smith had problems with alcohol, and Frances Gordon Smith referred to him in her 1918 passport application as her “former husband” and stated that she had not known his whereabouts for four years. (He apparently had gone overseas a year before her as a YMCA worker.)

Gordon Smith earned a credential in dietetics from the University of Chicago (she was listed as a student there in 1908). She gave lectures (such as this one in New York in 1916).
From late 1917 to February 1918, she served as a speaker for the Food Administration (headed by Herbert Hoover) on conserving food, reducing food waste, and addressing food shortages among the Allied nations. As this December 1917 Richmond Times-Dispatch article reports, she asserted that “the stark wolf of hunger is at the door of the world. . . . while conditions are bad in England, they are unspeakable in France.”

During World War I Gordon Smith worked for Le Bien-Etre du Blesse, a French-U.S. organization to feed French wounded that had author Gertrude Atherton as its American president (see my anthology for an account involving the head of Le Bien-Etre’s motor corps unit, writer Grace Gallatin Thompson Seton). Le Bien-Etre transported food to diet kitchens at aid stations and established diet kitchens in French military hospitals, with Atherton noting in January 1918 that the organization was serving 900 hospitals. This article shows Gordon Smith on board a France-bound ship in April 1918 with war relief notables such as Anne Tracy Morgan (cofounder of the American Fund for French Wounded/American Committee for Devastated France) and Mabel Boardman (a leader of the American Red Cross). The December 1918 Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine states that Gordon Smith was in charge of Rolland Hospital’s diet kitchen in Paris, but I believe the hospital was in Epernay.

Gordon Smith died in 1952 and is buried in Dublin Town Cemetery in Dublin, NH. Although her gravestone lists her birth date as 1868, her three passport applications list it as 1872. Her grandson is the sculptor-physicist Fielding Brown, and her great-granddaughter is Rosalind B. McClellan (former director of the Environmental Center at University of Colorado Boulder).

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