Biographical Sketch of Lucinda Lee Terry

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lucinda Lee Terry, 1873-1957

By Barbara C. Batson for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

Lucinda Lee Terry (5 December 1873–8 November 1957), civic leader and woman suffrage activist, was the daughter of Mary Susan Trout Terry and Peyton Leftwich Terry, an early settler in the town of Big Lick, Virginia, where she was born and which was renamed Roanoke in 1882. She attended the Virginia Female Institute (later Stuart Hall School), in Staunton, and subsequently studied in Europe. Lula Terry, as she was sometimes known, and one of her sisters operated a private school for a time in their home, Elmwood, before the family sold the house and property to the city of Roanoke in 1911 to create a municipal park.

In spite of working during the years immediately after the death in 1898 of her father, who had helped develop the city of Roanoke, Terry lived the life of a comfortable, upper-middle-class white woman and was able to travel abroad every few years, sometimes on extended trips. She never married. Like other members of her social class, she was active in several organizations that promoted civic and social causes. Terry was one of the founders in 1913 of the Roanoke Young Women's Christian Association, served as its first membership chair, and was president from 1914 to 1919. She remained active in YWCA work for two decades or more, and in 1930 she was a member of a statewide steering committee to direct work with girls in towns and rural districts. She also supported the work of the Roanoke chapter of the Traveler's Aid Society.

Terry advocated women's right to vote and joined the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia after its founding in 1909. In 1914 she was elected first vice president of the Roanoke Equal Suffrage League, and two years later she chaired its lecture committee. Terry attended nearly all the annual state conventions of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and chaired the hospitality and credentials committees in November 1914, when the convention met in Roanoke. During the 1915 convention in Richmond, she was a member of the nominations committee. Terry was also part of a large delegation that waited on the governor to urge him, without success, to support the campaign for a woman suffrage amendment to the state constitution. She represented the state league as a delegate to the annual conventions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1915, 1916, and 1917.

In 1914 Terry and Annie S. Barna Whitner, president of the Roanoke County league, persuaded Roanoke City Delegate R. Holman Willis to support woman suffrage and he became a reliable advocate for the cause. They were less successful in 1916, when they failed to convince the district's state senator to support an amendment to the state constitution, although they did persuade the secretary of the state Republican Party to write party members in the General Assembly to advocate suffrage. Terry was one of the league's representatives who addressed the Republican State Convention in March 1916 when it endorsed woman suffrage. In 1919 she took part in the state league's project that enrolled about 32,000 Virginians in support of a suffrage amendment to the Constitution of the United States. She and other suffragists in the several Equal Suffrage League chapters in the city of Roanoke and Roanoke County were among the most successful in the state. Early in June 1919, as the United States Senate was considering the proposed Nineteenth Amendment, Terry and three other Roanoke-area suffragists signed a strong public letter to the two Virginia senators to urge them to vote for the amendment; both senators voted against it. In November Terry was elected recording secretary of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.

During World War I, the state league's president appointed Terry to a committee to monitor the conditions of working women in Virginia. Terry was chair of the Roanoke committee to promote conservation of food and was also chair of the Red Cross's local canteen committee. After the war she helped compile and publish an account of civilian participation in the war effort in Roanoke for the Virginia War History Commission. Terry was one of about two dozen Virginia women who attended the American Women's Victory Dinner and Conference in Washington, D.C., in February 1919 to discuss postwar social conditions, including public health, industrial and educational problems, and other issues that affected women and girls.

After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, Terry attended the founding meetings of the Virginia League of Women Voters in the autumn of 1920. She was named a vice chair of the state league, and in February 1921 she was elected chair of the Roanoke City league. In 1924, while serving as chair of the state league's committee on women in industry, she attended the convention of the national League of Women Voters. She was a member of the state league's board of directors during the 1920s and for a time served as chair for the sixth congressional district. Terry helped underwrite the league's publication of Lucy Randolph Mason's The Shorter Day and Women Workers (1922). In 1920 she became a member of the Anna Howard Shaw Memorial Committee to raise money to create a memorial to Shaw, former president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Terry continued her political activity throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1923 she was elected vice president of the Virginia Women's Council of Legislative Chairmen of State Organizations (later the Virginia Council on State Legislation) that coordinated lobbying activities at the General Assembly on behalf of issues of interest to women and families. Terry was then also legislative chair of the Virginia Parent-Teacher Association, a post she held for several years. In May 1932 Terry attended a meeting in Roanoke to found a state chapter of the American Birth Control League and was named to a committee to establish clinics in the state. In 1937 she attended the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Czechoslovakia.

Lucinda Lee Terry died of cancer on 8 November 1957 at a Roanoke hospital. After a memorial service at Saint John's Episcopal Church, where she taught Sunday school for fifty years, she was buried in the Terry family plot in City Cemetery.

Sources:

Birth and death dates on death certificate, Roanoke City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health; self-reported birth date and birthplace in passport application, 25 July 1899, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; civic career documented in Richmond Times-Dispatch, Roanoke Times, and Roanoke World-News, 1910s–1930s; Roanoke World News, 3 June 1919; Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, 16 May 1924 (portrait); suffrage activity, including a 1937 letter from Terry to Ida Mae Thompson with notes on the work in Roanoke, documented in Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Records, Accession 22002, Library of Virginia; obituaries in Roanoke Times and Roanoke World-News, both 9 Nov. 1957.

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