Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs

As her work in public affairs in Knoxville continued to expand, Lizzie Crozier French saw the benefits that statewide organization of women’s voluntary associations could achieve. In 1896, French called together a meeting of women’s organizations from across Tennessee at the Ossoli Circle. Twenty women’s clubs sent representatives who agreed that there was strength in numbers. They created the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs (TFWC), and elected Mrs. W. D. (Amelia Henderson) Beard from Memphis as president. The next year TFWC held its meeting in Memphis, and at that meeting, the delegates adopted the club motto, “Unity of Purpose.” Seeing the need for more educational opportunities for women, the delegates created an Education Committee with Lizzie Crozier French as its chair. The TFWC would later go on to create the Hancock County Health Project and inspire creation of the Sneedville Women’s Club.

In that same year, increasingly frustrated with the exclusionary stance of the suffragist groups, Black Suffragists formed the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). Mary Church Terrell from Memphis Tennessee was the first president and it grew to 28 federations with more than a thousand clubs and fifty thousand members. Another prominent African American suffragist (and Tennessean) was Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a founding member of the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first black female suffrage club in Chicago. African American women established several clubs often within churches. The Women’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention as well as the Woman’s Connectional Missionary Council within the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, became a network for Black suffrage. African American suffragists also founded Greek-letter organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (1908) and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (1913).

“The first NACW convention was held in Nashville in September of 1897, with President Mary Church Terrell presiding and Nettie Langston Napier serving as treasurer. Attendees also included Minnie Lou Croswaite, physicians Dr. Josie E. Wells and Dr. Mattie E. Coleman, Juno Frankie Pierce, a founder of the Nashville Federation of Colored Women’s Club who also presided over the Negro Women’s Reconstruction League, Hattie S Smith Jackson, and Georgia Bradford Boyd. During World War I, Dr. Coleman, a founder of the Women’s Connectional Missionary Council, championed women’s leadership positions in the CME church and led national defense fund drives and health programs for soldiers. Coleman supported the reforms of white activists, reminding them that “12,000 negro [sic] of the state are organized and are seeking a vocational school for their girls.” Pierce and Coleman made girl’s vocational education part of the program of the Tennessee Women’s Suffrage Movement.”