Artifacts Portraits

Hall of Fame: Nellie Nugent Somerville

Nominations are currently being sought for the 2011 class of the Mississippi Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honors women and men who made noteworthy contributions to the state. Consideration for the Hall of Fame takes place only once every five years and any Mississippian—native or adopted—deceased at least five years may be nominated. The deadline for nominations is October 1, and elections will be held at a special meeting of the MDAH board of trustees in December. Click here for complete nomination guidelines.

This series recognizes members of the Hall of Fame, whose portraits hang in the Old Capitol Museum. Special thanks to Anna Todd, University of Southern Mississippi student and MDAH summer intern, for researching this post.

Nellie Nugent Somerville, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession Number: 1981.47 (Museum Division Collection)
Nellie Nugent Somerville, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession Number: 1981.47 (Museum Division Collection)

Nellie Nugent Somerville (1863-1952) was the first woman to be elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1923. She was born on a Mississippi plantation in 1863. Her father was a Confederate soldier and her mother died shortly after her birth, so the young girl was raised mostly by her grandmother. She attended Whitworth College in Brookhaven as an adolescent and went on to graduate from Martha Washington College in Virginia in 1880. She was married to Robert Somerville in 1885 and the couple had four children.

During her life, Somerville was a pioneer in Mississippi politics and a leader in the movement for women’s voting rights. In 1894 she became corresponding secretary for the Mississippi Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and she organized and directed the Mississippi Women’s Suffrage Association in 1897. She also served as vice president of the National American Women Suffrage Association beginning in 1915. While in the Mississippi House of Representatives, she served as Chair of the Committee on Ellemosynary (charitable) Institutions and supported several pieces of legislation relating to child labor laws and the improvement of conditions for the blind, deaf, and mentally ill. Her daughter Lucy S. Howorth also served in the state legislature from 1932 to 1936. Following her husband’s death, Somerville moved from Greenville to Cleveland and she died in Ruleville in 1952. She was inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame in 1981.