“Bullets and ballots are not companions;” said Lizzie French in a famous 1912 speech to the Tenneesee Bar Association, “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 of life.”
Elizabeth Crozier French, born this date in 1851, was at the time the recently elected president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Inc. When the first woman in Tennessee history to address the organization took the podium, she delivered what many scholars believe today was one of her greatest messages stating her position on the state’s law forbidding women from voting. French was never one to sit still, and knew her best strategy as president of the state’s 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 women’s movement, French wasn’t at all intimidated by the men seated in front of her. Her speech was put into the record of the Tennessee Bar Association as an “Address on Women’s Rights” and became a much quoted theme in the South’s 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 Women’s Party.
From this speech forward, French 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 women’s rights in America. Some states had begun 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.
Finally 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 Women’s 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 City’s Old Gray Cemetery – leaving behind a legacy that is still felt to this day.