A womans right to vote
"The story of Lizzie Crozier French"
Most modern newspapers across America have a section in them
dedicated to the voices of the citizens within the communities
they serve. These sections known generally as "Letters
to the Editor" are one of the most important pages found
in newspapers and have led to momentous changes in American
The most powerful documented display from the pens of citizens
can be found in the womens suffrage movement of the late
20th and early 21st century. Both men and women supported the
right to vote for women in America and often found themselves
with few supporters in the mainstream society forcing
them to carry their messages directly to the people and gradually
winning their support after years of trying.
The original Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was
drafted by noted activist Susan B. Anthony in 1878 and was introduced
in every succeeding congressional session to no avail. The amendment,
however, gave suffrage groups across the nation a rallying point
from which they formed state campaigns, secured thousands of
signatures on petitions, and traveled throughout the nation
lobbying legislators and federal representatives to gain their
support. In addition, they took to the editorial pages of newspapers
alerting citizens to the amendment and encouraging them to contact
Unknown to Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists, the impact
of a woman from Tennessee would become the force to be reckoned
with as she would lead a movement in the state that would change
the minds of those die-hard opponents to women voting or serving
on a jury. Her ability with pen and the spoken word would unknowingly
become an icon of the Suffrage Movement in America. Her efforts
would reach far beyond the borders of Tennessee and into the
very halls of the nations capitol.
Lizzie Crozier was born in Knoxville on May 7, 1851 to Congressman
and local attorney John H. Crozier. While little information
is known about her mother, Lizzie Crozier was one of three girls
born into the family.
She was raised in the prim and proper fashion of the day, but
her father was adamant that his children receive a proper education.
Lizzie Crozier was educated at the Convent of Visitation at
Georgetown in Washington, D.C. and at a private Episcopal School
in Columbia, TN. She developed a love for education early on
in her life and, when not in school, spent her time reading,
writing, and engaged in personal study projects. Her fathers
work as a congressman and attorney also gave her a unique insight
into politics and law and Lizzie Crozier absorbed everything
she could from him.
At the age of 21, she met and fell in love with local businessman
William B. French with whom she had a son. Although much in
love, disaster struck Lizzie Crozier French, as she was known,
within two years of her marriage when her husband suddenly passed
away leaving her to raise their son William H. French on her
Lizzie French was not a lady to be still for long and she soon
began establishing herself as a teacher of note at the Knoxville
Female Academy and volunteering her time to various community
When she wasnt teaching, French traveled as much as she
could and continued her own studies. Following her 1884 attendance
at the Sorosis Club in New York City, where women from the community
met to discuss literature, politics, and assist each other in
their studies, French was inspired to return to Knoxville and
form one of her own in the city.
In 1885, Lizzie French, along with her sisters Lucy and Mary
Crozier founded a successful school for "young ladies and
children" at the Knoxville Female Academy, where the sisters
developed an educational curriculum that taught children more
than just the basics of reading and writing. They did so well
that the school became known throughout the city and was one
of the most popular among parents and students for its approach
On Nov. 20 of that same year, French invited 12 women to the
Knoxville Academy to organize a literary group like the one
she had visited in New York. The 12 women who chartered the
organization that night chose the name the Ossoli Circle, in
honor of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, who was regarded at that time
as one of the foremost literary woman in America. The founding
wasnt considered big news for the city, but those 12 women
had organized what would become the oldest federated womens
club in the South.
While French fueled the organization forward with projects aimed
towards providing educational opportunities for women of all
ages in the city, she also continued her teaching career with
the special academy she had founded with her sisters. Among
the most popular subject taught by Lizzie C. French at the school
was public speaking, which French had learned well from her
congressman father and had studied in her own educational career.
Teaching it as a course, however, was difficult as there were
practically no textbooks available. French wasnt one to
be discouraged and promptly wrote a book entitled: "A Manual
of Elocution", which was published two years later in 1887
and served as the textbook for her classes on the subject.
In 1890, French and her sisters ended the school, which allowed
her to devote herself full-time to working for womens
rights in Tennessee and, through the years that followed, earned
a reputation as one of the states most outspoken people
on the subject, especially in regards to working conditions
being faced by women in the states growing industries.
She earned a reputation as a writer with her letters to the
editor and spoke in public wherever she got the opportunity
to express her views on the rights of women in America.
Before the womens suffrage movement started gaining steam
in the late 20th century, French would often shock the crowds
she spoke to with comments such as: "I wish I could stand
here and say Fellow Citizens, but since I am not
accepted as a citizen by the government, I must say Citizens
and Fellow Servants..." By 1895, the Knoxvillian was becoming
a fixture in local and state government and earning recognition
from other women activists across the nation, who admired her
unwavering courage to break the stereotypes of women in America
and voice her beliefs in public and print.
In 1896, French took another step forward when she founded the
"Womens Educational and Industrial Union" and
used her position in the organization to become the first woman
to address the Knoxville City Council appealing for the appointment
of a Police Matron a female police officer for women offenders
who would assist in the care and treatment of the females arrested
by police. She convinced the City Council of the need for one
and filled the position herself for several months until the
city could hire a permanent matron.
While that particular organization was eventually merged into
other local charitable societies, French capitalized on her
success with the Knoxville City Council to become the first
woman to address the Tennessee General Assembly lobbying on
behalf of efforts to establish a separate prison for women and
children in the state of Tennessee. Her voice and those supporting
her were heard and the state eventually saw to the establishment
of both institutions.
Throughout her tireless crusade for womens rights, Lizzie
French continued her work with her first organization and the
Ossoli Circle as it was known became regarded not only as one
of the Souths most preeminent literary societies for women,
but also for its expanding charitable and educational programs
that reached from the valley to the mountains of East Tennessee
providing assistance and care to those families that needed
Although becoming known throughout the South and the nation
as a powerful public speaker, Lizzie French was a firm believer
in the power of the citizens pen and that the written
word carried more impact and a greater distance. In 1911, she
organized the Writers Club in Knoxville to empower other
women to express their beliefs and opinions through letter writing
campaigns to editors and supporters. The organization eventually
became the Knoxville branch of the League of American Penwomen.
The following year saw Lizzie French elected president of the
Tennessee Suffrage Association, where she began her all-out
fight to see that the Susan B. Anthony Amendment - now more
than 30 years old and regarded as a dead piece of legislation
in Congress - was added to the United States Constitution.
The bill and the labors of women like Lizzie Crozier French
were having some impact on womens rights in America. Some
states had began giving women greater control over their property,
a few had made divorce easier for those in abusive relationships,
and women were slowly gaining access to the courts in their
ability to sue for damages. French wasnt one to sit still
and knew her best strategy as president of the states
suffrage organization would be to take her message straight
to the Tennessee Bar Association. As the daughter of an attorney
and an out-spoken leader in the womens movement, she wasnt
at all intimidated by the men seated in front of her. When the
first woman in Tennessee history to address the organization
took the podium, she delivered what many scholars believe today
was one her greatest messages stating her position on the states
law forbidding women from voting.
"Bullets and ballots are not companions;" said French,
"but ballots in the hands of people are supposed to be
a substitute for bullets in the hands of hired agents...Thanks
be to God that in giving women the crown of motherhood he made
her the giver not the taker of life. Woman has no greater claim
to the rights of the ballot than she is a producer not a destroyer
Her speech was put into the record of the Tennessee Bar Association
as an "Address on Womens Rights" and became
a much quoted theme in the Souths growing number of suffrage
groups. French continued her work in Knoxville founding and
serving as president of the Knoxville Equal Suffrage Society
and becoming a leading member of the National Womens Party.
While the cause of womens suffrage took up much of her
time, it never dissuaded her from what she felt were her other
obligations as a citizen. She continued her interest in teaching
serving as an officer in the states Parent-Teacher Association,
worked as a volunteer at St. Johns Episcopal Church, and
continued her supporting role in the Ossoli Circle.
Lizzie Crozier French and her colleagues began to see a thaw
in Congress in 1919 when the suffragists held their annual meeting
in St. Louis, MO. The Susan B. Anthony Amendment was up for
a vote for the 22nd time and the suffragists felt they had swayed
more than enough congressmen to give it a fighting chance in
the House. They knew that passage in the house would only be
half of the fight as making the legislation a Constitutional
Amendment would take a mandatory 36 states to ratify it.
The organization was successful as by late Spring of that year,
the legislation passed both Houses of Congress. Six states ratified
the 19th Amendment immediately and the suffragists took their
fight to the states securing passage in 29 of them. Six Southern
states rejected the Amendment to the Constitution with seven
states left to act on it.
The other Southern states Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana
were adamantly opposed as were Connecticut and Vermont, which
placed the battle for ratification in Delaware and Tennessee.
In June, word came down that the state of Delaware had defeated
the bill and the nations eyes turned towards Tennessee.
The states suffrage organizations sprang into action setting
up headquarters in the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. The
anti-suffrage organization set up shop in the Hermitage Hotel
and the battle in Tennessee became one of symbolism with the
suffragists choosing a yellow rose and the anti-suffragists
organization choosing a red one to symbolize their stance on
The unofficial "War of the Roses" began on August
7, 1919 when legislators began arriving by train for the special
session. There was more to the issue than just giving women
the right to vote and legislators were faced with four lobby
groups hitting them at the train station handing out roses representing
their respective sides and beginning arguments that would wage
throughout the entire session.
Among the most persuasive argument brought to the representatives
came from the liquor interests of the state, who had funded
much of the anti-suffrage movement in Tennessee. Railroads and
other industries had also contributed heavily to the anti-suffrage
movement as they did not want to have to "buy off any more
votes than they were already doing." The arguments of non-liquor
industries generally fell on deaf ears with the legislators,
but the success and influence of Carrie Nation and the Womens
Temperance Union led many legislators to believe the liquor
industrys claims that if women gained the right to the
ballot, they would almost assuredly vote in prohibition, which
could prove disastrous for the state.
On Aug. 9, 1919, the special session of the Tennessee General
Assembly got underway with Governor A.H. Roberts urging ratification
of the Amendment. Although 68-years-old, Knoxvillian Lizzie
Crozier French was in the middle of the fight in Nashville and
using her influence to help sway the vote towards passage. After
numerous debates, delays, swings of votes this way or the other,
the bill finally passed the Senate on Friday, Nov. 13 by a margin
of 25-4 with Sen. McFarland abstaining.
The bill was then handed down to the House for review the following
Monday. Fearful that votes would be lost to the powerful interests
lobbying against passage, the suffragists borrowed a page from
the anti-suffrage groups and kept close contact with House members
throughout the weekend.
For three days in the House, representatives swayed back and
forth. Speaker of the House Joe Hanover, who supported the amendment
reported that both sides were paying legislators for their votes,
but by Wednesday a final vote was ready. A test vote to table
the resolution lost on a 48-48 tie and knowing another
tie vote would defeat the bill the anti-Suffragist immediately
called for another vote to kill the amendment in Tennessee.
Unknown to the other House members at the time was that a letter
to Niota, TN Representative Harry Burn arrived from his mother
that very morning urging her son to vote in favor of the amendment.
As a roll call vote was done again in the House, Rep. Harry
Burn voted "Aye" to the resolution giving it
a 49-47 majority. At that time, Rep. Seth Walker changed his
vote to "Aye" also and made a motion to reconsider.
The vote long-sought by Lizzie Crozier French had finally come
to fruition in a way she had never dreamed of happening in her
home state of Tennessee.
On August 25, 1919, Tennessee certified the ratification becoming
the 36th state and making the 19th Amendment to the United States
Constitution the law of the land giving women the right to vote.
Lizzie C. French and the Suffragists across America cheered
passage of the 19th Amendment and French joined women across
Tennessee in casting their first votes that following November
. In addition, French went on to help found the Knoxville chapter
of the League of Women Voters.
Lizzie C. French remained an active member of the Knoxville
community and made a bid for City Council in 1923, but was defeated.
Three years later the 75-year-old Lizzie C. French traveled
to Washington, D.C. to help the National Womens Party
furnish a room in honor of the Tennessee suffragists and also
secure introduction of a bill in Congress to benefit working
women in America. On May 14, 1926, while still in Washington,
D.C., the Tennessean quietly passed away.
Her body was returned to her hometown in Knoxville where she
was laid to rest in the Citys Old Gray Cemetery
leaving behind a legacy that is still felt to this day.
This year the Ossoli Circle, which Lizzie Crozier French founded,
celebrated its 116th anniversary as an organization. It is still
regarded as one of the citys most recognized philanthropic
organizations and remains involved in numerous local and regional
charities. In 1926, the organization placed a portrait of their
founder in the National Womens Party Headquarters in Washington,
D.C. to honor her contributions to womens suffrage in
The National Womans Party still exists today in Washington,
D.C. and is continually active in issues of concern to women
around the world.
Lizzie Frenchs formation of Suffrage organizations in
Knoxville led to Tennessees first chapter of the League
of Women Voters being founded in the city. The organizations
influence has, through the years, become a powerful voice in
While the Womens Suffrage Movement in Tennessee has been
studied extensively, there is very little biographical information
on Lizzie C. French available to the general public nor is she
mentioned in Tennessee history textbooks.
"L.C. French was one of the most prominent women in American
politics in her day," said local biographer Sylvia Lynch,
"and considering the era in which she accomplished this
is a tribute to her strength of character. She was a persuasive
speaker and writer who exerted considerable influence on Knoxville
and Tennessee through her speeches and letters in regards to
Womens Suffrage and creating a better quality of life
in the state. Her life certainly deserves study as she was someone
who truly benefited her community at large. While she is notably
recognized as one of the leading founders of the Womens
Suffrage movement in Tennessee, her contributions as a writer
and teacher are largely overlooked by historians and it was
in these areas that she made some of her greatest achievements."