Women's Activism NYC

Lydia Hamilton Smith

1813 - 1884

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

Lydia Hamilton Smith was a prominent mixed-race businesswoman born near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was also the longtime housekeeper, life companion, and collaborator of the state’s abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens. She had been the wife of a Black Gettysburg barber, Jacob Smith, but they were living apart when Stevens hired her as his housekeeper. Separated from her husband, Smith moved with her mother and sons to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and accepted a position as housekeeper to a prominent lawyer and abolitionist, the unmarried Thaddeus Stevens who had moved from Gettysburg in 1842. Stevens was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1858, and Smith continued to keep house for him (including his house in Washington, D.C.) until his death in 1868. Smith had two sons, whom Stevens helped to raise. She and Stevens also raised two of Stevens' nephews, whom he had adopted in the 1840s. Her relationship with Stevens fascinated and infuriated many, and it made Smith a highly recognizable figure both locally and nationally. Smith bought her house in Lancaster next to Stevens' house in 1860. During and after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Smith hired a horse and wagon, and collected food and supplies for the wounded on both sides from neighbors in Adams, York and Lancaster counties and delivered them to the makeshift hospitals. In the last years of Stevens’s life, as his declining health threatened to short-circuit his work, Smith risked her own well-being to keep him alive while he led the drive to end slavery, impeach Andrew Johnson, and push for the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. After Stevens' death in 1868, in addition to buying his house in Lancaster, Smith operated a prosperous boarding house across from the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., and invested in real estate and other business ventures. Lydia Hamilton Smith died in Washington on her 71st birthday in 1884.

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