Juno Frankie Pierce

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Juno Frankie Pierce, 1862-1954

By Carole Stanford Bucy, Professor of History, Volunteer State Community College, Gallatin, Tennessee

National Negro Reconstruction League, National Council of Colored Women, National Council of Colored Women's Clubs, Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls, Mattie Coleman, Catherine Kenny, Blue Triangle YWCA,

When the League of Women Voters of Tennessee had its first meeting in May 1920, anticipation and enthusiasm filled the air as the meeting opened in the House of Representatives Chamber at the Tennessee state capitol in Nashville. A year earlier, after intense pressure from Tennessee's suffragists, the Tennessee General Assembly had passed a bill to give Tennessee women the right to vote in municipal and national elections, but the right to vote in statewide elections was still prohibited by the state constitution. Assuming that ratification of the 19th amendment was going to happen soon, since approval by only one more state was needed before ratification was complete, this meeting was a victory celebration. Among the Tennessee suffragists gathered there for the meeting was Juno Frankie Pierce, a longtime African-American activist who had forged a political alliance with some of the white suffragists in support of numerous progressive causes. Pierce was among the list of distinguished speakers on the first day's program.

Juno Frankie Seay Pierce was born around the time of the Civil War, between 1862-1865, to Frank Seay & Nellie Allen Seay, who met at church services of the First Baptist Church of Nashville. Nellie Allen Seay was the property of a Smith County woman known only as “Mrs. Robinson” at the time of Frankie Seay Pierce's birth, but Tennessee amended its constitution in early 1865 before the end of the Civil War so Pierce grew up as a free black in Nashville and was educated at the John G. McKee Freedmen's School and Roger William University. After teaching at Nashville's Bellview School for a short time, she married Clement J. Pierce, and moved to Paris, Texas. When her husband died in 1912, Frankie Pierce returned to Nashville and immediately became active in a variety of African-American women's organizations dedicated to improving opportunities for the city's African-American population. The Negro Women's Reconstruction League and the Nashville Federation of Colored Women were among the organizations to which Pierce provided leadership. When Pierce realized that there were no restroom facilities in downtown Nashville for African Americans, she organized a march to the mayor's office and the state capitol. Montgomery Ward responded by creating restrooms for African Americans in its store.

After Pierce realized that delinquent African-American girls were held in local jails for long periods of time because they were not admitted to white juvenile institutions and schools in Tennessee, she became the driving force in a campaign to create an educational institution for delinquent African-American girls. It was working toward this goal that lead her to form a political alliance with Catherine Talty Kenny and other white suffragists.

Working with the Nashville Women's Reconstruction Service League, she and Dr. Mattie Coleman, another African-American suffragist, registered African-American women to vote after the 1919 legislative act that gave Tennessee women partial suffrage without regard to race. This activity brought Pierce and Coleman to the attention of the white leaders of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association. Coleman addressed a state suffrage meeting in 1919 and Coleman was named the statewide chairman for the suffrage association's “Negro women's suffrage” work.

When Pierce addressed the women attending the first meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters in 1920, she began by asking the question, “What will the negro woman do with the vote?” and then answered her question, by saying, “Yes, we will stand by the white women. We are going to make you proud of us, because we are going to help you help us and yourselves. We are interested in the same moral uplift of the community in which we live as you are. We are asking only one thing: a square deal....” After listing the ways that African-American women has supported the war effort during the Great War, she closed with her desire to create more educational opportunities for African Americans, “We want recognition in all forms of this government. We want a state vocational school and a child welfare department of the state, and more room in state schools.”

Pierce's speech was covered in the morning paper the next day without regard to the fact that she, an African American was speaking to an audience of white women, a highly unusual action for any African American living in the segregated South. Although the writer of the newspaper account of the meeting covered Pierce's speech in the same column with the other speakers on the program, Pierce was the only speaker identified by her race. (The front-page story on the day of the account of Pierce's speech focused on the “Victory” celebration dinner at the Hermitage Hotel. Since all of Nashville's restaurants and hotels were segregated, it can be assumed that Pierce was not invited to attend the dinner.)

The year after the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to create the vocational school for African-American girls that Pierce had wanted after a major lobbying effort by Pierce and other reformers. When the school opened in 1923, Pierce became its first superintendent and remained in that position for the next sixteen years. Understanding the need for continued political support for the school, each year she held a breakfast at the school for members of the General Assembly and other community leaders to remind them of the important work that the school was doing. When Pierce retired, she was succeeded by her ally, Dr. Mattie Coleman.

Pierce continued to be active in public affairs until her death in 1954. She had been instrumental in the creation of the Blue Triangle YWCA for African Americans in 1919, and chaired the African-American campaign to raise funds for a new building two years prior to her death. At her funeral at the First Baptist Church Capitol Hill, more than ten speakers paid tribute to Pierce and her civic and humanitarian work. She was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville after the service. She is one of the five suffrage leaders memorialized on the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument in Centennial Park in Nashville.


Oral History Interview of Abby Crawford Milton done by Marylin Bell Hughes, 1983. These interviews were recorded on cassette tapes. In 1994, Carole Bucy transcribed these tapes. Bucy's transcriptions as well as the original cassette tapes are housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville.

Carole Stanford Bucy, “'The Thrills of History-Making': Suffrage Memories of Abby Crawford,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 55, #3 (Fall 1996), 224-39.

Virginia Edmondson, “A History of the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls,” unpublished paper given to Anita Shafer Goodstein by the author.

______,”Frankie J. Pierce and the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls,” Nashville: Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, 1985.

Anita Shafer Goodstein, ”A Rare Alliance: African-American and White Women in the Tennessee Elections of 1919 and 1920,” Journal of Southern History, vol. 64, #2 (May, 1998), 219-46.

“Women Hear Party Speakers at Meeting,” The Nashville Tennessean, (19 May 1920), 8.


Juno Frankie Pierce, photo owned by First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, Nashville


Source of Photo of Tennessee Woman suffrage Monument in Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee:


Source of photo of Pierce's grave, Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/172449485/juno-frankie-pierce


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