Ellen Hines Smith

Started in legal services in Greenville, SC. Became judge. Founder of Piedmont Legal Services. Member of the Spartanburg City Council.

Person details

Where most active professionally: South Carolina
Law type: Civil
Lists: In Memoriam, Judge, and Reggie
Source: CNEJL
Date deceased: Apr 26, 1998


I spent my life being sort of a pioneer. I was the only woman in my law school class. And then I was the first woman judge in South Carolina. And then I was the first woman ever elected to the Spartanburg City Council.

STELLAR CAREER Born: Jan. 24, 1940 1970: Smith is the first female judge appointed in Spartanburg County. 1974: Spartanburg Girls Home, a facility for troubled adolescent girls, opens and Smith is named chairman of its board of directors. 1977: Smith founds and leads Piedmont Legal Services. 1983: Smith is the first woman elected to the Spartanburg City Council. She served on the council until January of this year. 1985: Spartanburg Girls Home is renamed The Ellen Hines Smith Girls Home. 1993: Smith is named Spartanburg’s first female mayor pro-term. 1995: Smith steps down after 18 years as the executive director of Piedmont Legal Services. The building on Main Street is renamed The Ellen Hines Smith Civil Justice Center.

What others say

Spartanburg loses a friend Ellen Hines Smith: Shining life cut short

by Murray Glenn, April 27, 1998

Ellen Hines Smith, 58, founder of Piedmont Legal Services and a 15-year member of the Spartanburg City Council, died of heart failure while reading a book, family members said.

In 1982, Smith, a Spartanburg native, was the first woman elected to the City Council. She also was the first woman to become a judge in Spartanburg County. “It is a great loss,” Spartanburg Mayor James Talley said. “The city is losing a great citizen, and I’m losing a great friend.” Talley was the first black City Council member. He came on board the same year as Smith. “We were able to work together and disagree without being disagreeable,” Talley said. “Everybody who knew her had a great working relationship with her. It is the type of thing that you don’t find every day.”


The agency she founded, Piedmont Legal Services, gives free civil legal assistance to thousands of Upstate residents who couldn’t otherwise afford it.


owers said she was very dedicated to the city and dedicated to Piedmont Legal Services. One of her causes in the mid-1980s was affordable housing. She was a crusader in the creation of the Spartanburg Residential Development Corp., a public-private partnership that helped people become homeowners. The corporation included the city, real estate brokers, bankers and builders. Smith was the corporation’s first chairman. “We found that a lot of people who were paying rent could actually make house payments, and own their own home,” Bowers said. “In my time, that was her biggest accomplishment.” Eddie McDonnell, executive director of Piedmont Legal Services, said Smith was his mentor. She hired him in 1977 after he graduated from law school, and she rehired him after he spent time in private practice. “She was a good mentor,” McDonnell said. “She trained quite a few lawyers in that office. She had lots of energy, and she loved working for people. “She believed the poor deserved as good of legal representation as anyone else.” Smith received numerous local, state and national awards for her work. She also was the only woman in her class at the University of South Carolina School of Law, where she was salutatorian. She is the former chief judge of Spartanburg County criminal and criminal court. The Piedmont Legal Service Center on East Main Street and the Spartanburg Girl’s Home were renamed in her honor. Smith is a past winner of the $10,000 Kutak-Dodds Prize, which honors a legal services lawyer, a public defender or a public interest lawyer who enhanced the quality of life in her community.