Section 12: The “Dixie Tour”

In 1917, Maud Younger (1870-1936), a National Woman Party (NWP) board member, traveled across Tennessee as part of the “Dixie Tour.” The purpose of this Southern trip was to rally suffragists to make personal calls on every congressman in hopes they would be more receptive to woman suffrage when they realized the depth of the support in their respective districts. Younger also wanted to provide context to the White House pickets and “correct the many erroneous impressions that had been made about the Woman’s Party.” 

To Younger’s surprise, on her first stop in Memphis, Tennessee, no public facility allowed her to speak. When the tour arrived in nearby Jackson, Mayor Lawrence Taylor made it clear that the West Tennessee city would not allow “any seditious or treasonable utterances,” and he ordered police protection for the meeting.

Lizzie Crozier French was in charge of local arrangements for the Dixie Tour’s appearance in East Tennessee. She requested use of Knoxville’s Market Hall for the evening of Tuesday, November 27, 1917. As the day approached for the “Dixie Flyer” to arrive, Knoxville’s commissioners joined their Memphis and Nashville counterparts by voting 4 to 1 to deny Younger permission to speak. Knoxville Mayor John E. McMillan announced that he was “opposed to letting any women, whom I understand are just out of jail, where they were sent for picketing, come here and lambast the president.” McMillan added: “This is no time to find fault with the president or his principles, but rather to support him, and I believe that public opinion will bear me out in this statement.” The petition the commission received in protest of Younger’s use of Market Hall was signed by 11 members of the Margaret Brent Suffrage League, which sided with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Before the vote on the use of Market Hall, Knoxville’s mayor and commissioners allowed French to make a short speech in which she assured city leaders that the purpose of Younger’s appearance was not to criticize the president but to rally support for the passage of a federal suffrage amendment. Undeterred by rejection, French obtained permission to use Judge George M. Trotter, Sr.’s courtroom for Younger’s talk. On the night of the event, though, the suffragists arrived at a locked Knox County Courthouse with Sheriff John L. Callaway and 10 of his armed deputies protecting the grounds. The Central Labor Union responded by sending approximately 80 armed men to protect the suffragists, forcing the outnumbered deputies inside. Despite rain and chill, Younger’s lecture turned into an outdoor rally, where from the courthouse steps suffragists addressed the crowd for more than an hour, lamenting the injustices they faced in prison, the lack of action by President Wilson, and the need for more radical tactics. The next day, The Tennessean reported that “nothing seditious was spoken” and that “nothing derogatory of the President came from their lips.”

Many Tennessee suffragists felt that they had to make a choice in leadership to win the right to vote between A.) Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), president of the more moderate NAWSA and B.) Alice Paul, president of the NWP, who favored “radical” tactics to draw public attention to the cause and shame elected officials into supporting suffrage. In East Tennessee, Lizzie Crozier French, unlike other suffrage leaders from across the state, was able to remain on good terms with both groups.

Showdown in Knoxville

by by Wanda Sobiesk | recorded March 18, 2018

While working for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Wanda Sobieski was surprised to learn that many of the arguments against it were earlier employed in opposition to woman suffrage. What began for her as a research journey to understand the parallels soon led to a lifelong pursuit. Wanda will discuss events in Knoxville and the city’s role in turning the tide of southern resistance against woman suffrage. An attorney in Knoxville, Sobieski holds both a master’s degree and a doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee. She spearheaded the successful efforts to erect the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Memorial statue on Market Square in Knoxville and is a passionate collector of suffrage objects and memorabilia.