Confronting the Modern Era
Confront Suffrage Leader 04 Anne Dallas Dudley Confront Suffrage Leader 01 Lizzie Crozier French Confront Suffrage Leader 02 Elizabeth E. Avery Meriwether Confront Suffrage Leader 06 J. Frankie Pierce Confront Suffrage Leader 05 Sue Shelton White Confront Suffrage Leader 03 Lide A, Meriwether

Tennessee Suffrage Leaders

The Meriwethers
Elizabeth Avery Meriwether of Memphis was one of the first women in the state to publically push for women’s suffrage in the early 1870s. She wrote letters to newspapers and published a booklet about women’s rights. 

In 1876 she went to the polls and attempted to vote in the presidential election of that year. She then rented a theater and held a meeting to explain her beliefs. In 1881 she joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony on a speaking tour in New England. In her book of recollections, she quoted a newspaper that said her “keen sarcasm, wit and humor caused frequent bursts of laughter and applause.”

Another time, Elizabeth was stopped at a train station by a young man who knelt beside her and began praying for her conversion. She told him he was probably suffering from dyspepsia (indigestion), and to get up.

Her sister-in-law, Lide A. Meriwether formed the first suffrage league in the state in 1889. It was located in Memphis. Other leagues were formed in Maryville in 1893 and in Nashville in 1894. During the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, suffragists met in the Woman’s Building and formed a statewide association.

However, the resignation of Lide Meriwether from this group in 1900 left it without any strong leaders. By 1910 there was renewed interest. Several suffrage clubs formed and began holding meetings, essay contestants, debates, teas, and balls. 

Lizzie Crozier-French
Lizzie Crozier-French was an unusual woman for her time. She was born into one of Knoxville’s most prominent families and married into a socially prominent family. When she became a widow at 22 years of age, Lizzie began a life of service. She founded a female institute in 1885.

Later she founded the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union to assist working class women and women prisoners. She was appointed the first police matron in the South to oversee women prisoners. It was natural that with all her abilities for organizing and public speaking, that Lizzie would turn her attention to women’s suffrage.

In 1910 she formed the Knoxville Equal suffrage League and took the cause statewide. Lawyers at the Tennessee Bar Association meeting in Nashville might have been surprised when Lizzie stood up and addressed their meeting without an invitation. Tennessee women, she said, become “non-persons” when they marry since state laws require that wives turn over all their property to their husbands.

After the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, Lizzie Crozier-French cast her first vote in the election that fall. On the application form for the vote, under occupation, she wrote “suffragist.”

Anne Dallas Dudley
Anne Dallas Dudley was a society leader, the mother of two children. Although at one point, she said she was an anti-suffragist, after reading and studying about the issue, she changed her mind. “Not only does the world need women’s votes, but woman needs the ballot for her own development,” she explained.

Anne Dudley and two of her friends, Maria Daviess and Ida Clyde Clark, formed the Nashville Equal suffrage League in 1911 with Dudley as president. They organized parades, usually led by Anne Dudley and her children. Over the next eight years, the group helped form organizations in 78 towns in Tennessee. Dig Deeper: Why did the league want Anne Dudley and her children in front of the parade?  

Dudley was elected president of the state suffrage movement and then went on to the national organizations. She was put in charge of the congressional steering committee trying to push the 19th amendment through congress. When the final vote on the ratification of that amendment came up in Nashville, Anne Dallas Dudley was there, trying to persuade legislators to vote for women’s suffrage.

Sue Shelton White
Sue Shelton White was one of the more militant members of the women’s suffrage movement. Born in Henderson, Tennessee, White graduated from college and was one of the first women court reporters. She helped organize the Jackson Equal suffrage League.

White decided that the more radical suffrage group, the National Woman’s Party (NWP), was more effective and joined that party in 1918. She participated in a suffrage demonstration in front of the White House which burned the words of a pledge to help women get the right to vote that President Woodrow Wilson made and didn’t fulfill. She was arrested and spent five days in jail.

White also came to Nashville during the vote on the 19th amendment and lobbied lawmakers. After the amendment was passed, White earned her law degree and worked for Senator Kenneth McKellar from Tennessee. She later worked as an attorney for Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to help implement the Social Security Act.

Frankie J. Pierce
Frankie Pierce was born to a house slave in Smith County sometime during or right after the Civil War. She was educated at a private school set up for African Americans after the war.

When she dis-cover-ed that there was no institution that would take black delinquent girls, forcing the authorities to put them in jail, Pierce helped found an educational institution for those girls. When she recognized that there were no restroom facilities in downtown Nashville for African American women, she helped organized a protest march to the mayor’s office. As a result, Montgomery Ward department store installed a restroom for “colored” women.

It was natural that she then became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. In a speech to a state suffrage meeting in May, 1920, Pierce said, “What will the Negro women do with the vote? We will stand by the white women.”

In return, Pierce said her group was only asking one thing, “a square deal.” In a joint effort, unusual for the times, white suffragists joined with black women and successfully lobbied the legislature for a state vocational school for African American girls.

Picture Credits:
  • Print of Lizzie Crozier French. Mcclung Historical Collection, Knox Public Library.
  • Daguerreotype of Elizabeth Avery Meriwether. A daguerreotype is a type of photograph. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2002.66.2.
  • Photograph of Lide Meriwether. The caption underneath the photo reads, “Mrs. Lige Meriwether, Pres. Tenn.” Bryn Mawr College.
  • Photograph of Anne Dallas Dudley and children. Dudley is posed with her son Guilford Dudley Jr. and an unidentified daughter. Tennessee State Library and Archive.
  • Photograph of Sue Shelton White. This photo was taken in 1920 and shows White wearing a suffrage prisoner pin. Library of Congress.
  • Photograph of J. Frankie Pierce. Tennessee State Digital Library. 

   Confronting the Modern Era >>  Life in Tennessee >>  Getting a Fair Share >>  Woman's Suffrage

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