Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, 1832-1915
By Miki Pfeffer, Ph.D., urban historian and visiting scholar at Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, LA
Active Suffragist and Speaker, NAWSA and WCTU
Elizabeth Lyle Saxon was born in Greeneville, Tennessee in 1832 and died March 14, 1915, in Memphis, Tennessee, where she is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. She was a daughter of Andrew J. and Clara Crutchfield Lyle, who died when Elizabeth was two. Saxon was a pupil of writer Caroline Lee Hentz and the protégé of her strong father, who encouraged her plucky and intrepid style. She married Lydall Allen Saxon (1826-1901) at age sixteen in 1849 and was the mother of five and grandmother of the Louisiana writer, Lyle Saxon.
Saxon was a published writer, a poet, and a journalist. While in New Orleans, she was editor for the Labor Department at the New Orleans City Item. In her memoir, A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscences (1905), she states she had been against slavery, seeing the latter as degrading to women. She indicates that she and her husband were Unionists when in New York with his business. When she returned alone to their winter home in Wetumpka, Alabama, she dedicated herself to the South and its soldiers, but she called Alabama's secession on January 11, 1861, the “saddest day of my whole life.”
She was a fearless reformer when living in Alabama, Tennessee, and twelve years in New Orleans. In 1879 at the Louisiana Constitutional Constitution, she goaded fellow suffragist Caroline Merrick to “represent yourself now, if you only stand up and move your lips.” The two women presented their petition of suffrage for propertied women, but they gained only the right to serve on school boards. In Saxon's memoir, she recalled “my many tongue battles in favor of woman, and the shame of her repression.”
Saxon lectured regularly with Susan B. Anthony and founded the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association. Simultaneously, she was a stalwart organizer and speaker for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which by 1888 was also seeking suffrage. She traveled with Frances E. Willard, president of WCTU, and worked to increase black and white chapters. In Kansas, she spoke on temperance or suffrage at eleven conventions in a single year (1886) and in Nebraska, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington D. C., Missouri, New York, and elsewhere. She was an effective speaker and “one of the most entertaining ladies off the stage.”
Saxon worked her entire adult life to advance women and girls, and she met criticism with shrewd retorts. She helped raise the age of consent for girls from ten to sixteen years old and later to eighteen; she fought for fair treatment and economic equality. She urged punishment for men who failed to support their families, especially because of drink. She told clubwomen about woman's work and influence and the history of suffrage. Although one newspaper opined, in 1898, that she had “become content to await the turn of events which will bring the ballot to women,” she remained a fiery, “fluent and earnest talker” employing her “personal magnetism” to forward women's rights. Elizabeth Lyle Saxon died of bronchial pneumonia in 1915, five years before the Nineteenth Amendment became law.
Lyle Saxon Papers, LaRC/Manuscripts Collection 4, Tulane University Louisiana Collection, New Orleans.
Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI). Ancestry.com website.
Bond, Beverly Greene and Sarah Wilkerson Freeman, eds. Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 2. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2015.
Dabney, Virginius. Liberalism in the South. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1932.
Find A Grave. Ancestry.com website.
Harper, Ida Husted. History of Woman's Suffrage, Vol V (1900-1920). N. P.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Lindig, Carmen. The Path from the Parlor: Louisiana Women 1879-1920. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1986.
Merrick, Caroline E. Old Times in Dixie Land: A Southern Matron's Memories. New York: Grafton Press, 1901. https://archive.org/stream/oldtimesindixielmerr#page/n3/mode/2up
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Volume 16. New York: James T. White & Co., 1918.
Lyle Saxon papers. LaRC/Manuscripts Collection 4, Boxes 14, 17. Tulane University Louisiana Collection, New Orleans.
Saxon, Elizabeth Lyle. A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscences: For the Benefit of the Shiloh Monument Fund Memphis: Pilcher Printing Co. 1905. https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/saxon/saxon.html
Tennessee, Deaths and Burials Index, 1874-1955. Ancestry.com website.
U. S. Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth census of the United States, 1910-Population. Ancestry.com website.
U. S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (1893). Ancestry.com website.
Wedell, Marsha. Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991.
Willard, Francis E. and Mary A. Livermore, eds. A Woman of the Century : fourteen hundred-seventy biographical sketches accompanied by portraits of leading American women in all walks of life. Buffalo, Charles Wells Moulton, 1893.
Willard, Frances E. and Mary A. Livermore, eds. American Women. A revised edition of Woman of the Century, 1,500 biographies with over 1,400 portraits; a comprehensive encyclopedia of the lives and achievements of American women during the nineteenth century. Two volumes. New York: Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1897. See sketch for Saxon at pp. 633-634 [LINK].