Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Zella (Mrs. Alonzo) Richardson, 1868-1948
By Robin O. Harris, PhD., Professor Emeritus, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, GA
Prominent Atlanta club woman, civic activist, socialite.
Served in numerous offices for the Atlanta Women's Club and the Georgia Federation of Woman's Clubs, including as National Director for the Georgia Division and Chairman of the Georgia Citizenship Division.
Zella Richmond Richardson (1868-1946) and her husband, Alonzo Richardson played a very prominent role in Atlanta society. Both held leading roles in various civic activities regarding education, civic improvement, public health, and the expenditure of city revenues. Zella, a leading club woman in Atlanta, held offices in numerous organizations, such as the Music Club of College Park, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Atlanta League of Women Voters, along with involvement with the Liberty Loan Drive, the Red Cross, and other similar committees. In later life, she became well-known as a Georgia film censor as part of the Atlanta Better Films Committee, eventually holding the office of President.
As with many prominent southern women, Zella's direct involvement with the suffrage movement was limited; however, in her case, very powerful. In 1919, the Resolutions Committee of the Georgia Federation of Woman's Clubs put before the state convention an appeal for the endorsement of the Federal Amendment for woman suffrage and recommended ratification by the Legislature. With the appeal ruled out of order by the president, Mrs. James E. Haynes of Montezuma, “Mrs. Rogers Winters of Atlanta appealed from the decision of the chair; Mrs. Alonzo Richardson of Atlanta seconded the appeal and was sustained, and the resolution was brought before the convention. It was carried by a vote of 85 to 40.” This extremely controversial move yielded much disapproval and indignation from the anti-suffragists within the Woman's Clubs Federation. Yet, for every club that resigned from the organization, ten more took their place. Zella's action proved a pivotal moment for the suffrage movement in Georgia.
In 1936, Zella received recognition for her civic service from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in what became known as the “Atlanta Woman of the Year Award.” Citing her as a “teacher and counselor, helper and friend to all,” the award touted Zella's extensive church and community service. Upon her death, in 1946, the Atlanta Constitution saluted her as an “outstanding church and civic leader.” In addition to the organizations mentioned earlier, the newspaper article referenced her role as “a former member of the Georgia Commission for the Blind, an honorary member of the Pilot Club, and a charter member and organizer of the Atlanta Club, an organization of women at the City Hall.”
The life of Zella Richmond Richardson illustrates that of many southern women who committed themselves to life-long service in their communities.
In an article regarding her visits to the various Georgia districts of the Georgia Federation of Woman's Clubs, Zella briefly referred to the suffrage issue as an “intelligently co-operative factor which brings results.”
Although publicly generally silent on the issue, she courageously stepped up at a crucial time to assure Georgia supported the guarantee of this right to women.
Most of the information in this sketch derived from multiple issues of the Atlanta Constitution, 1895-1946. Dr. Matthew Bernstein is currently working on a book which includes Mrs. Alonzo (Zella) Richardson's work as a movie censor: Segregated Cinema in a Southern City, Atlanta, GA, 1895-1963. Information regarding the GWFC resolution came from The Complete History of the Women's Suffrage Movement in the U.S. by Jane Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, et.al. Quotes come from the following issues of the Atlanta Constitution, “Civic Work Awards Made by Chamber,” April 3, 1936; “Atlanta's First Woman of the Year Dies,” April 30, 1946; “Mrs. Alonzo Richardson Gives Her Impressions of District Conferences,” May 2, 1920.