GORDON, WILHELMINA (Minnie) (Smith), churchworker and social reformer; b. 5 Feb. 1849 in Pictou, N.S., daughter of William Gordon and Amelia Miner; m. there 29 Oct. 1879 George Frederick Smith, and they had three daughters; d. 16 July 1925 in St Andrews, N.B.
Minnie Gordon, the daughter of a Pictou merchant, was brought up in a home that her brother Daniel Miner Gordon described as “very, very happy.” A great influence was her mother, who undertook the children’s religious training, and Minnie became, in the words of her brother, “a devout & active Christian.” Her marriage in 1879 to a New Brunswick ship broker took her to Saint John, where she gradually moved from being an outsider to one possessing “the confidence of the community.” Though raised a Presbyterian, she was with her husband a member of St John’s (Stone) Anglican Church, a congregation that enjoyed a long evangelical tradition and over the years numbered several social reformers among its members. Minnie taught in the Sunday school at St John’s and sat on committees of the Ladies’ Society of Church Workers, which unanimously elected her president in 1891. She was also on the executive of the ladies’ association of the Church of England Institute. Her husband, George, was equally active in the church, serving as a vestryman for 15 years.
Following the death of her husband on 6 March 1894, Smith continued to raise the family’s three daughters. The task was eased somewhat by her inheritance of George’s entire property, amounting to real estate worth $9,400 and a personal fortune of $71,600. The wealth also afforded her a measure of independence, and as her children grew older she devoted herself more to charitable activities. She freely gave her time and energy to many causes, and became involved in a number of organizations at both the local and the national levels.
Smith was a charter member of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Saint John when the branch was formed in 1899. She became its first vice-president and held the office until her death, helping guide the organization with a clear, incisive mind that could make solid decisions. Her contributions through the years were several, and included chairing committees, organizing events, and overseeing the establishment of a short-lived training school for nurses during the early 1920s. From 1905 to 1911 she represented the VON on the Local Council of Women.
The church continued to be a major interest. When in 1903 the diocese of Fredericton formed a chapter of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada [see Roberta Elizabeth Odell], she became first vice-president of the board; she served in this capacity until 1919, when she was elected president, an office she held until 1925. To these positions she brought, a later history noted, “a wise appreciation of the services of women.” From 1911 to 1925 she was vice-president for the Maritime provinces of the dominion board as well. A life member of both bodies, she would leave $500 to the diocesan board in her will.
In February 1918 Smith was one of a select group of women invited to attend a national conference of women in Ottawa by the war committee of the federal cabinet. The conference sought to define a role for women on the home front and ultimately determined that “we can best serve the state at this time by simplicity of life and by concentrating energy on increased production and on thrift in all our ways.” On her return Smith encouraged the VON in Saint John to eliminate refreshments from its meetings, a step that won praise from local newspapers.
Gordon died at her summer home in St Andrews in 1925 of uterine cancer. Her body was returned to Saint John for burial in Fernhill Cemetery. A tangible tribute was paid her with the donation by her daughters of a prayer desk and choir fronts in her memory to St John’s Church. At a dedication service on 6 Sept. 1925 the rector, Archibald Lang Fleming*, praised “her keen intellect,” “remarkably gracious spirit,” and “tremendous capacity for work.” Her niece Wilhelmina Gordon noted that she and her brother Daniel, a Presbyterian minister, had been much alike in many ways, and above all in “their sincere and serene religious life and their unostentatious devotion to their Master.”
Fernhill Cemetery Company (Saint John), Burial records, order for interment, Wilhelmina Smith. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Saint John, Kings Ward: 18, dwelling 123. PANB, RS71/1894, G. F. Smith. Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library (New Glasgow, N.S.), “Alexander Gordon, tacksman of Dalcharn, 1732–1810.”. Queen’s Univ. Arch. (Kingston, Ont.), D. M. Gordon fonds, reminiscences, vol.1; box 9, diary, 1925. Victorian Order of Nurses (Saint John), Arch., Minutes, 1919–25. Daily Telegraph (Saint John), 30 Oct. 1879.— Ottawa Citizen, 5 March 1918. Saint John Globe, 5 March 1918, 17 July 1925. Mrs Willoughby Cummings [E. A. McC. Shortt], Our story: some pages from the history of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, 1885 to 1929 (Toronto, [1929?]). Directories, N.B., 1889/90; Saint John, 1891/92. A. L. Fleming, A book of remembrance; or, the history of St. John’s Church, Saint John, New Brunswick (Saint John, 1925). Wilhelmina Gordon, Daniel M. Gordon: his life (Toronto and Halifax, 1941). A. G. McIntyre, Our first fifty years, 1903–1953; Woman’s Auxiliary of the Church of England in Canada, Fredericton diocesan board ([Fredericton?, 1953?]). J. P. MacPhie, Pictonians at home and abroad: sketches of professional men and women of Pictou County; its history and institutions (Boston, 1914). National Council of Women of Canada, Year book (Toronto), 1905–12. St John’s Church, Parish Notes (Saint John), 1889, 1891–92; continued as St. John’s Church Record and Parish Notes, 1892–93. J. V. Young, Brief history of the Victorian Order of Nurses, Saint John, N.B., 1899–1963 (Saint John, 1963).