Legislator, educator, businesswoman. Smith, the daughter of Arthur Hugh Smith and Alice Beryl Whitley, was born in Washington, North Carolina, on November 12, 1929. After attending Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Smith received a B.S. degree in chemistry and biology at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro in 1951. She married Harris Page Smith on April 18, 1952, and moved to Easley, South Carolina, where she taught junior high school science and later owned the House Antiques and Gifts. The mother of four children, Smith was a well-known figure in the community and served on various Pickens County boards and commissions, including those related to the public library, the arts commission, and home health care.
Harris Smith, a state senator from Pickens County since 1971, died on July 12, 1981. The following November voters in Senate District No. 1 (Abbeville, Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens) elected Nell Whitley Smith, a Democrat, to serve out his unexpired term. At the time of her election, Smith was just the sixth woman to be elected to the South Carolina Senate. Upon taking office in January 1982, Smith joined Elizabeth J. Patterson and Norma Russell in the Senate, as well as Lieutenant Governor Nancy Stevenson. As a result of redistricting, in 1985 Smith’s district changed to District No. 2 (Pickens), and voters from that district elected her to full terms in 1984 and 1988. She retired from the Senate at the end of the 1992 legislative session. Smith was chair of the Rules Committee, the first woman to serve as chair of a standing Senate committee. As chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Children and Families, Smith worked on issues such as licensing day-care centers that resulted from more women entering the workforce. Following her retirement from the Senate, Smith continued to serve the community on a volunteer basis through membership on numerous boards and commissions.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.