Women’s Studies at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

Public Services Resource Guide #07

“A vote for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment is a vote for organized female nagging forever.” —1920 handbill calling for the rejection of the proposed 19th Amendment (Josephine Pearson Papers)

Despite this sentiment, Tennessee became the final state necessary to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Women’s papers — diaries, journals, and letters — comprise a significant part of the collections at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Here one can find myriad documents relevant to local, state and national history: the Civil War, slavery, suffrage, journalism, politics, world wars, and social life are well represented in the holdings. Described here is a sampling of those collections.

Rachel Carter Craighead Diaries, 1855-1911

Twenty volumes of sustained and substantive entries chronicle the life of a well-to-do woman of Nashville’s upper crust from 1856 to 1911. The happy life of an affluent teen is revealed in the early volumes. In 1862, Rachel watched from her doorstep as Union troops occupied Nashville. Two years later, General Grant stayed as a “guest” in the house. At times, the family was short on fuel and resorted to hunting squirrels and rabbits to put meat on the table. The later diaries detail the family’s attempt to recover from the war and Rachel’s prescient comments on current events. Microfilm 661

Lucy Virginia French War Journals, 1860-1865

Tennessee’s answer to Mary Boykin Chesnut’s Civil War journals is notable for its fine quality and detail. Lengthy entries record the life of a slaveholding family in Beersheba Springs during the War Between the States. Lucy, a novelist, writes about battles, bushwhackers, irregulars, her own depression and illnesses, and the ups and downs of marriage. A last-minute visit by General John Hunt Morgan and his new wife adds to the excitement of the diary. Microfilm 1816

Nannie E. Haskins Williams Papers, 1863-1917; Nannie Haskins Diaries, 1863-1866

Nannie was a teenager in Clarksville during the Civil War, and her diaries are some of the most noteworthy examples of journal writing held at the Library and Archives. She had a gift for observation and knack for detail comparable to that of other more famous Southern women diarists of the period. The diary is important because its author views the war through the eyes of an adolescent and interprets the effects of war on a small Southern town. Microfilm 73 and Microfilm 1261

Confederate Widows’ Pension Applications. Record Group 3, Board of Pension Examiners, 1891-1967

The pension applications and accompanying papers are among the most remarkable records at the State Library and Archives. Confederate widows’ allowances were first issued in 1905 and record the birthplace of widow and soldier as well as information about their children. Since proof of marriage was required, marriage licenses occasionally appear as supporting documents. Other items include correspondence between the applicant and the Pension Board, letters or sworn affidavits attesting to husband’s character and military service, and War Department abstracts of the soldier's service record. Microfilmed

United Daughters of the Confederacy Collections, 1892-Present

The UDC records are very strong for the family historian researching Confederate ancestry and women. The collections, more than a dozen of them, contain applications for membership, chapter minutes, scrapbooks, correspondence, membership lists, memorials, speeches, maps and tributes. One of the most exciting recent finds is a volume titled “Record of Ex-Confederate Soldiers and Sailors, Members of the Confederate Relief and Historical Association of Memphis.” Researchers interested in the perpetuation of Confederate history and the legacy of the Lost Cause should consider this volume indispensable. The Annie E. Cody Papers (1927-1957) also offer important UDC materials including news clippings and papers delivered at chapter meetings. Microfilm 798

Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, 1916-1921

The Catt Papers represent the Library and Archives' principal collection of pro-suffrage materials. They contain correspondence (especially telegrams) from women’s clubs and national figures, newspaper clippings, and a major selection of political cartoons. Catt’s leadership was a key factor in Tennessee becoming “The Perfect 36,” the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment. Students of women’s history will find these papers essential for their studies. Microfilm 1077

Josephine A. Pearson Papers, 1860-1943

Pearson’s anti-suffrage papers provide balance to Catt’s. Miss Pearson, a Tennessee native, lobbied vigorously against the amendment that would give American women the right to vote. Miss Pearson’s leadership was critical to the cause, and the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment by only one vote. For the anti-suffrage point of view, these papers are invaluable. Microfilm 1078

Fedora Small Frank Papers, 1843-1964

Fedora Small Frank was an author and historian who chronicled Jewish life in Nashville. Her papers are essential for those researching the Jewish experience in Nashville. They contain correspondence, cemetery and military records, historical sketches, naturalization papers, and newspaper excerpts. One sketch describes Nashville as “delightfully situated on the Cumberland River… but also tax and dog plagued.” Much of the correspondence was written in the 1850s when the Jewish community established a permanent presence in Nashville society. Microfilm 1247

Louise Littleton Davis Papers, 1890-1994

Louise Davis, writer and historian, began and ended her long newspaper career at the Nashville Tennessean. Many of these papers contain her research notes for articles that appeared in print. The collection is additionally composed of correspondence, speeches, subject files, interview notes, and scores of photographs. Davis was a gifted storyteller and her papers are important for students of journalism and those interested in basic Tennessee history. The variety of photographs is extraordinary.

League of Women Voters Papers, 1920-1989

These important papers are critical for researchers studying 20th-century public affairs, state government and women’s history. A nonpartisan group, the League strives to create an informed electorate educated in issues peculiar to women. The collection is divided into 22 topical headings including local leagues, education, historical files, poll reporting, health care and publications. Local and statewide newsletters contain valuable reports of League activities. The League continues its involvement in American political life. Microfilm 1376

Tennessee Federation of Business & Professional Women’s Club
Papers, 1920-1998

Formed in 1920 to promote the interests of business and professional women, this organization considers itself the voice of Tennessee’s working women. The club’s papers contain a wide variety of documents among its 12,000 items. Convention materials, biographical sketches of women of achievement, annual reports, songs, radio speeches from 1933, and local club minutes constitute major portions of the collection. The papers are a must for researchers studying 20th-century women active in community affairs and business. For a look at women through a different lens, see the Nashville Housewives League Papers (1939-1961). The collection includes club minutes and scrapbooks of clippings which describe league projects: better canning and home-making methods, clean-up drives, city beautification, and educational aid were sponsored by an active Housewives League.

Sadie Warner Frazer Papers, 1894-1974; and Addition, 1941-1986

This vast collection contains over 8,000 items related to a prominent Nashville family and its kin. For the researcher seeking information on late nineteenth and early twentieth-century upper-class society, these papers are a windfall. Sadie’s reminiscences are of special note. There is some interesting military history here as well, particularly involving the Second Armored Division, 1941-1945. Microfilm 1190

Anne Porterfield Rankin Papers, 1887-1941

Mrs. Rankin was a respected journalist, columnist and editor who worked for the Nashville Tennessean and Southern Woman’s Magazine during the early 20th century. The collection includes reams of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and essays on Nashville history and poetry. Those who have a deep interest in the history of women’s journalism will find this collection very useful. Microfilm 1585

Sallie Gray Brown Papers, 1918-1945

In 1941 and 1942, a series of war games known as the Tennessee Maneuvers played out in Middle Tennessee. It is estimated that a million soldiers came through the area during the two maneuvers, and they poured into Nashville and surrounding towns for recreation. Volunteering at the USO during that time was a Gallatin woman, Sallie Gray Brown. Throughout the war, dozens of homesick soldiers in Europe and the Pacific wrote to thank her for her kindness during the maneuvers. Their letters comprise this collection.

Bettie Mizell Donelson Papers, 1787-1938

The Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA) is well represented here with six volumes of scrapbooks. One volume deals with suffrage and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), causes in which Bettie was active. Two scrapbooks chronicle the assassination of Bettie’s husband, William Alexander Donelson, in 1900. The LHA items are of importance to those interested in the evolution of The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, as a national historic site. The suffrage-WCTU volumes will be of significance to anyone seeking to learn about women’s rights and Prohibition. Microfilm 804

Nell Savage Mahoney Papers, 1928-1978; and Addition, 1889-1986

Mrs. Mahoney had a deep interest in fine arts, historic houses, and architectural history. She was a professional interior designer, journalist, commercial artist, and author. As a researcher, she kept extensive and thoroughly documented notes through years of work, especially on her favorite architects Benjamin Latrobe and William Strickland. The Strickland notes complement the already existing record groups concerning the Tennessee State Capitol. Microfilm 1120 and Microfilm 1389

Zilphia Horton Folk Music Collection, 1935-1956

A lodestone for students of twentieth-century labor history and social protest this collection contains authentic folksongs, union songbooks, music tapes, picket line song sheets, and correspondence. Songs such “Wake You Sleeping Workers,” “The Farmer’s Curst Wife,” and “We Shall Overcome” are examples of works in this collection. Historical information about the songs and composers are provided in many instances. Zilphia Horton was the music director at the Highlander Folk School (HFS) from 1935 to 1961. Her husband, Myles, was the founder of HFS.

Compiled by Susan Gordon