Lucille Elizabeth Bishop Smith, African-American entrepreneur, chef, educator, inventor, and food corporation founder and president, daughter of Mary (Jackson) Bishop and Jesse Bishop, was born in Crockett, Texas, on September 5, 1892.
At various times, Smith attended Wiley College, Prairie View A&M College, and Colorado State College. She graduated from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin. In about 1912 she married Ulysses Samuel Smith and moved to Tarrant County. They had three children: two sons and a daughter.
Lucille Smith worked for several years as a seamstress and also as a cook for various private clients. In 1927 she became the teacher-coordinator of the Fort Worth Public School District’s vocational education program for black students. The program trained students for domestic service jobs.
A dinner that Smith catered in Fort Worth led to an opportunity to manage the cooking at an exclusive girls’ summer camp near Kerrville—Camp Waldemar. Lucille’s husband, Ulysses, himself a renowned chef, was widely known as the “Barbecue King of the Southwest” and catered for William Thomas Johnson’s traveling rodeo. The Waldemar Cookbook stated, “Except for two years in the early 1930s, either U.S. or Lucille or both were responsible for Waldemar’s food from 1928 until the summer of 1973.”
In 1937 Lucille Smith was recruited to initiate a domestic service training program for professors and instructors at Prairie View A&M College. In that job, she developed the first college-level Commercial Foods and Technology Department that incorporated an apprentice-training program; she also created five service training manuals. In 1941 Smith wrote a cookbook in the form of a card file box of recipes. The cookbook, entitled Lucille’s Treasure Chest of Fine Foods, went through multiple editions and was a rare collectors’ item by the twenty-first century.
While recovering from a serious illness in the 1940s, Smith invented Lucille’s All Purpose Hot Roll Mix as a fundraiser for her church, St. Andrews United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. Within thirty days, she was able to donate the profit of $800 to the church. Orders continued to pour in. It was the first hot roll mix to be marketed in the United States. A 2004 article in the Cleburne Times-Review reported: “Grocery stores began placing orders for cases of the mix. By April of ’48, the orders were for more than 200 cases per week of the 14-ounce boxes. Twenty-one different products [recipes] could be made from the base. The product paved the way for the convenience cooking we know today.”
Ulysses Smith died in Fort Worth in 1956. In 1974 at the age of eighty-two, Lucille Smith founded and became president of her family-owned corporation, Lucille B. Smith’s Fine Foods, Inc.
Smith has been called Texas’s first African-American businesswoman. She was the first black woman to join the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. For several years, her chili biscuits were served on American Airlines flights. They were also served at the White House. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Lyndon Johnson, and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis were among her friends, fans, and customers. She served as first food editor for Sepia magazine. In 1965 during the Vietnam War, Smith baked a fruit cake for each of the 330 military service people from Tarrant County who were serving in Vietnam.
Lucille Smith died on January 12, 1985, at the age of ninety-two, in her daughter’s home in Brenham, Texas. Her funeral was held at St. Andrews United Methodist Church (where she was a longtime member), in Fort Worth, on January 17, 1985. She was buried next to Ulysses in Peoples Cemetery in Haltom City, Tarrant County, Texas.
Among Lucille Smith’s awards, honors, and recognition are the Fort Worth proclamation of “Lucille B. Smith Day” on April 28, 1966, appointment to the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (1969), YMCA Service to Youth Award (1970), T.L. Holley Service Award in Industrial Education (1966), Federated Women’s Club Woman of the Year (1961), Prairie View A&M College’s Distinguished Partner in Progress Award (1966), and Merit Mothers of Texas Award (1969 and 1970). In 1999 she was chosen as one of the 100 Women of the Century by the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas. She belonged to the United Negro College Fund, the NAACP, and the YWCA.
In the book Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, Carol Roark wrote: “City councilwoman and journalist Edith Deen summed up Lucille Smith’s career, calling her a ‘pioneer in education, humanity, and civic service.’ She is, Deen said, ‘a woman who has used her time wisely.’” All three of Lucille and Ulysses Smith’s children earned advanced degrees, and all eight of the couple’s grandchildren did likewise.