Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lavinia (Mrs. L.F.) Selden, 1837-1916

By Jennifer Schraw, graduate student, University of North Carolina - Greensboro

Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer, State Equal Suffrage Association of Tennessee

Lavinia Flournoy was born about 1837 in Powhatan, Virginia. She was the daughter of John and Mary Flournoy and had 9 siblings. By 1860 the Flournoy family relocated to Paducah, Kentucky and served as founding members of the community. Lavinia was the wife of Churchill Jones Selden born about 1815 in Virginia and 23 years her senior. The marriage was in 1865. Early in the marriage the Seldens lost two children in infancy, Baby and Elise Selden. In 1880, the Seldens resided in St. Louis, Missouri where Churchill was an oil merchant. Churchill died in 1882 and is buried in Memphis, Tennessee. After Churchill's death, Lavinia lived with her sister Mary in Memphis and worked as a custodian and librarian. However, by 1910, the census noted that Lavinia was widowed, educated, and living in Memphis as the head of a household of 5 - including her younger sister Mary Flournoy and three boarders. She resided at 852 Madison Ave in Memphis according to the 1909 RL Polk & Company Memphis City Directory.

Lavinia was involved in the suffrage movement in Tennessee later in her life. She was a signatory to a letter appended in Josephine K. Henry's 1895 The New Woman of the New South. The letter begins, "Memphis, Tennessee. We, the undersigned women of Tennessee do and should want the ballot," and provides a list of 11 arguments in favor of women's suffrage; including the argument that as taxpayers, women have the right to representation. According to the History of Women's Suffrage vol.VI, in 1906 Lavinia was the corresponding secretary and treasurer of the State Equal Suffrage Association for Tennessee. She remained corresponding secretary in 1908 as she is listed in the role in the Auxiliary States appendix of the 1908 Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Conference held in Buffalo, New York. She served alongside other prominent Tennessee suffrage leaders, Lide Meriwether and Mrs. J. D. Allen.

In addition to involvement in the suffrage movement, Lavinia was also involved in the Memphis Unitarian Church. The church was dormant in the early 20th century but Lavinia and Alvin Ward were inspired by a pastor from New Orleans in 1908 and revived the Memphis Unitarian community and reconnected the community with the AUA or American Unitarian Association. Her work with the Unitarian Church is corroborated by the 1909 Manual for the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. In the Manual, Lavinia is cited as the President of Alliance Branch, First Unitarian Church in Memphis. She also served as the secretary and treasurer of the organization.

Lavinia died in July of 1916 at the age of 78 and is buried in an unmarked grave at the Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the passage of the 19th amendment.

SOURCES: U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 23 November 2019), memorial page for Lovinia Flournoy Selden (Sep 1838-17 Jul 1916), Find A Grave Memorial no. 136592196, citing Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by J. Faulkner (contributor 47192216) .

Gibson, Gordon. Southern Witness: Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era. Skinner House Books and Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society, Boston, MA 2015.

National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. Manual. The Knickerbocker Press, New York. 1909.

Harper, Ida Husted, editor. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol VI 1900-1920. NAWSA, 1922 [LINK].

Upton, Harriet Taylor, editor. National American Woman Suffrage Association, October 15-21, 1908 in Buffalo, NY, NAWSA, 1908.

"The New Woman of the New South" (2019, July 18). In Wikisource . Retrieved 17:33, November 23, 2019, from

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Seventh census of the United States, 1850 - Population.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Eighth census of the United States, 1860; Tenth census of the United States, 1880; Twelfth census of the United States, 1900; Thirteenth census of the United States, 1910 -- Population.

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