M. Smith (b. 1888) was sixteen years old when she lost her
life in the fire at the Iroquois Theater. She
was a girl of many names. At home and with
family she was Ruthie or Bonnie, while
at school she was known by her middle name,
Margaret. Orphaned eighteen months
before by the early deaths of her parents, Edward
Parker Smith (1844 - January, 1902), a traveling
salesman, and Mary "Mollie" E. Studevant
Smith (1845 - April, 1902), Ruth lived with her brother
and guardian, Charles E. Smith (1880-c1945) at 2177
Charles worked as a clerk for
Swift & Co. at the Chicago Stockyards while Ruth attended the John
Marshall college preparatory school on Chicago's
west side at West Adams street and Kedzie avenue.
She was the only Iroquois Theater fire victim at
Marshall. Would she have gone on to college
had she lived? Perhaps, but there wasn't a
family history of academic pursuit.
In happier times, two years before death began
stalking the family, Ruth,
the baby in the family, lived
with her parents and three siblings: Charles, an older, married sister, Katherine
"Kittie" Smith Mentz (1874-1919) and the
sibling closest to her in age, Leon H. Smith (1883-1905).
Funeral and interment
body was found at Buffums Funeral Home and
identified by Charles. The funeral
was held the Saturday after the fire, January 4,
was buried at the Benzonia Township Cemetery in
Benzonia, Michigan, alongside her parents and
Benzonia and Congregational Church
Prior generations of Smiths
hailed from Pennsylvania, one even fighting with George
Washington at Valley Forge. Some later settled
in Richland, Ohio. From there, Ruth's
grandparents, Samuel Smith (1801-1875) and
Mary Ann Soper Smith (1807-1894), retired to
Benzonia, Michigan in the 1870s. The tiny religious
colony on the east shore of Lake Michigan, about
thirty miles southwest
of Traverse City, had been founded a decade earlier.
A handful of Congregational faithful from Ohio were
determined to establish a Congregational school
patterned after Ohio's Oberlin College. Grand
Traverse College (later named Benzonia College), was
the alma mater of the effort's founder, Charles E.
Bailey. Samuel Smith was a farmer with
passions beyond sowing and harvesting crops.
Remembered in his obituary for his work on behalf of
abolitionist and temperance causes, he and his
family, including his father and siblings, helped
found the Congregational church in Mansfield, Ohio.
His decision to spend his final years helping build
a Congregational community in Michigan was in
In the years after the fire
Ruth's brother and
guardian, Charles E. Smith, became an accountant,
in 1909 married and with Mabel Forest Smith had two children. After a decade
in Chicago the family moved east, first to New York then on
to settle in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He was the
only one amongst the siblings, or parents, to reach his sixtieth
birthday. Kittie married, maybe twice, but
died young, without producing offspring. The
youngest brother, Leon, died
two years after Ruth, at age twenty-two.