Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Frances Holder Overall, 1879-1962

By Megan M. Atkinson, Tennessee Technological University

Frances Holder Overall was born in 1879 in Gallatin, Tenn. She married William Asbury Overall (1874-1958), a statistician for Tennessee's state mining department, on February 25, 1902. Frances Holder Overall graduated from the Howard Female College in Gallatin and was the first president of their Alumni Association. She was active in the Methodist Church. Due to her poor health, she and her husband moved out west for a period. She died in 1962 and is buried in Gallatin City Cemetery.

Overall started working in suffrage in a small capacity as chairman of the postal service for the Nashville Woman's Suffrage Association in 1914. She later became the chairman of the executive board for the Nashville Woman's Suffrage Association for two terms before she resigned in May of 1918 for health reasons. Mrs. Reuben M. (Helen Wile) Mills replaced her as chair. She organized a suffrage booth in March 1918 for a carnival in Nashville. She also served as chairman of rules for the citywide suffrage convention in Nashville held on January 23, 1919. She was also a member of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.

She took part in the 1917 suffrage campaign in Tennessee seeking partial suffrage, which included seeking suffrage in only presidential and municipal elections as a means of obtaining at the minimum some voting rights. She was one of five speakers promoting this partial enfranchisement bill in front of the Tennessee House Judiciary Committee, urging its passage. The House passed the bill but it was defeated in the Senate. The fight for partial suffrage discontinued for a period because the suffragists began working for the war effort. The bill was revisited later and was passed just two months before the Nineteenth Amendment.

In 1912, Overall defended the actions of British suffragists, but also felt their methods were militant and not necessary for suffrage in the United States. She wrote, in a letter to the editor of The Tennessean, "in the first place, we certainly would not have such methods used in our county and, in the second place, they will certainly not be used here because conditions are so different from those in England. Conditions there are misunderstood by us, for the reason that the press gives us only an account…and fails to tell of the causes leading up to such conduct, or the brutality with which these women are treated." She goes on to describe suffrage movement in England as a "revolution" and the suffrage movement in the United States as "evolution."

Suffragists in Britain used parades and picketing, methods that Overall and many other American suffragists felt were militant and undesirable. In June 1917, at a meeting with the Nashville Woman's Suffrage Party, Overall opposed fellow American suffragists in the National Woman's Party, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, for using tactics taught to them by the militant British suffragists. The methods chosen by the National Woman's Party included picketing the White House and Congress, actions that Overall felt were inappropriate due to the war effort and were "unwholesome even in times of peace." She condemned their methods as not typical of "American womanhood generally or of American suffragists particularly." At the same meeting in June 1917, the Association decided that members should devote their time to the war effort instead of suffrage. For the war effort, Overall assisted in the Third Liberty Loan Drive with the Nashville Woman's Suffrage Association selling bonds.

She was a prolific writer to the editor of the Nashville Banner and regularly pled the suffrage cause by refuting opinions on why women should not vote. Many of her arguments addressed the idea that the women's right to vote increased the vote of African Americans and could contribute to racial equality. She also composed and delivered numerous speeches for conventions, hearings, and even the farewell party for Congressman Joseph W. Byrns.


Blackwell, Alice Stone, Within the Organization," The Woman Citizen, vol. 3, 1918, 16. Accessed from

Frances Holder Overall Papers, 1867-1918, Tennessee State Library and Archives, IV-F-3, Accession No. 841, 1036

"Frances Holder Overall, Gallatin City Cemetery, memorial ID 127887833," Find a Grave. Accessed on January 3, 2018 from

"Gives Figures on Negro and White Population: Mrs. W. A. Overall Answers Leading Anti-Suffragist," The Tennessean, February 1, 1917, 9.

"Local Suffragists Condemn Picketing at White House," The Tennessean, June 22, 1917, 11.

Moore, John Trotwood. Tennessee: The Volunteer State, Volume II, 1769-1923. Nashville: S.J. Clarke Publication Company, 1923. Accessed from

"Mrs. W. A. Overall is Highly Commended: Organization Expresses Appreciation of Services Rendered by her as President," The Tennessean, May 7, 1918; 15.

Overall, Frances Holder. Letter to the Editor "Defends English Suffragettes," The Tennessean, March 25, 1912, 4.

"Resigns Place as Suffrage Chairman: Mrs. W. A. Overall Surrenders Leadership of City Association," The Tennessean, May 3, 1918, 10.

Taylor, A. Elizabeth. The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957.

United States. Congress. House. Committee on Woman Suffrage. Extending the Right of Suffrage to Woman. Hearings on H.J. Res. 200 January 3-7, 1918, 311. Accessed from:

Yellin, Carol Lynn and Janann Sherman. The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage, Memphis: Vote 70 Press, Inc.: 2016.

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