Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lula Colyar Reese, 1860-1926

By Heaven Smith, Adjunct Instructor of History: Louisiana State University, Alexandria, Alexandria, Louisiana

Tennessee Suffragist, President of the Nineteenth Century Club, and first of two women to serve on the Memphis City Board of Education

Lula Colyar was born on February 25, 1860 in Franklin County, Tennessee to Arthur Claire Colyar and Agnes Erskine Estill. Her father was a lawyer and formerly served as a Colonel in the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the Civil War, the Colyar family moved to Nashville. Lula was educated by private tutors and at the Ward School in Nashville. On February 13, 1878, she married Isaac Reese in Nashville. Isaac was a businessman, coal dealer, and zinc miner with businesses in both Tennessee and Arkansas throughout his life. Her husband was born July 2, 1852 in Bowling Green, Kentucky and died on August 28, 1922 at the age of 70. Lula and Isaac had four sons, William Isaac Reese, Erskine St. Claire Reese, Colyar Reese, and Isaac Reese, the last of which died in the battle of the Argonne Forest in France during World War I. Lula and her husband lived in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas throughout their marriage. Lula died in May 1926.

Lula became involved in the Ladies' Hermitage Association in the late-nineteenth century. This was an organization formed in 1889 by Tennessee women who worked toward the preservation of former President Andrew Jackson's property, also known as the Hermitage. On April 5, 1889, the Tennessee State Legislature gave ownership of the Hermitage to the Ladies' Hermitage Association.

Lula and her husband were socialites and became very involved with high status members of their community in Tennessee. In 1899, Isaac and Lula moved to Paducah, Kentucky for Isaac's work. While in Kentucky, Lula organized a progressive women's club called the Delphi Club. In 1900, Lula and Isaac moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Lula continued in her work in women's rights. Lula was heavily involved in women's suffrage organizations and work advocating equal rights for women in Tennessee.

On October 15, 1915, Lula became one of the first women to speak publicly about women's suffrage at the courthouse in Somerville, Tennessee, located just outside of Memphis. Her speech focused on the cause of women's equality and suffrage. Lula and other suffragists, including Mrs. Alex Y. Scott, Mrs. A.B. Pittman, and Mrs. Walter C. Jackson, made speeches to recruit others to the cause of women's equality and to suffragist clubs and organizations on behalf of their involvement in the Equal Suffrage League. In November 1916, Lula participated in speeches given by several suffragists from Tennessee and Mississippi, including Mrs. Leslie Warner, Miss Sue White, and Mrs. C.C. Davis. The speeches were held at the courthouse in Lexington, Tennessee, located between Memphis and Nashville. Lula's advocated for the enfranchisement of women in this speech.

Lula served as the auditor for the Tennessee State Federation of Women's Clubs as noted in the 1915 Office Register and Directory of Women's Clubs in America. Lula is recognized in the Lexington, Tennessee Carroll County Democrat newspaper in 1917 as the vice president at large of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association and was selected as chairman of the conservation of woman's labor. Lula attended and made a speech at the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association meeting in June 1917. In 1918, being a member of the Equity League, Lula traveled from Memphis to Mississippi's Capitol when Senator Earl Richardson from Neshoba County, Mississippi proposed a concurrent resolution to amend Mississippi's state constitution in order to allow women to serve as county superintendents and on boards of educational and benevolent institutions. Lula, along with one other woman, made a brief speech on behalf of this effort in front of the Mississippi Senate. Though State and local suffrage associations, of which Lula was a participant, were successful in advocating for the passage of laws related to women's rights, this proposal resulted in a tie and was not taken up by the House of Representatives. When a suffrage bill came up for a vote in the House in Tennessee, Lula was among those present and was cited as one of the most "untiring workers" regarding her work toward women's suffrage. On January 19, 1917, the House voted in favor of suffrage, but the bill was struck down in the state Senate. In 1919, Lula represented West Tennessee in an executive board meeting of the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Association at Lookout Mountain. She was also involved with the Federation of Women's Clubs. Lula served four years as the president of the Nineteenth Century Club, a women's organization dedicated to achieving women's suffrage and equality.

Lula's belief in civil and political involvement for women extended beyond suffrage, as evidenced by her attendance and speech at a Chattanooga Equal Suffrage Association mass meeting in August 1919. At this particular meeting, she argued that women should be participants of "factory inspection boards, prison boards, insane hospital boards, school and other boards of public work" because "Voting, she said, did not carry the power it should to women unless they were given a voice in things concerning the interest of the family. True, she said, the women could not do much in cleaning up conditions in a few months or a few years, since it had taken the men thousands of years to get the world in its present 'rotten state.'" She also states her opinion that women's suffrage "made women do their own thinking" and that the ability to participate in politics and be wives and mothers simultaneously was achievable, "No thinking woman...will neglect her home and children. It is only the rattle-brained and the woman who does not think or look beyond the present that is prone to neglect her household." Lula also stated at this meeting her belief in compulsory voting for both men and women. In a September 1919 News Scimitar article, Lula and several other Memphis women pledged to ask candidates in an upcoming election to help support several of their causes including "law enforcement economy, the abolition of useless offices, the appointment of women on the advisory board of the juvenile court, and of a board of women motion picture censors, the appointment of women on both police and detective forces." They also notably pledged to ask for city candidates to commit to "work for a law giving women the right to vote in all primary elections, as well as in municipal elections."

In addition to her activism in women's equality, Lula also participated in a movement aimed at assisting in improving the lives of African Americans in Memphis and throughout the South. She attended a meeting in which Dr. Sutton E. Griggs outlined plans to improve conditions for African Americans throughout the South at the Tabernacle Baptist Institutional Church in May 1919. Lula was also one of two women first elected to the Memphis City Board of Education, a right which she had been involved in securing. During her time on the Board of Education, Lula helped secure a raise for Memphis teachers that had not received one in ten years. She is cited at the first woman "who ever ran for office in Tennessee" by The Chattanooga News in June 1919. She also advocated for free textbooks and stronger anti-child labor laws. Lula's involvement in Tennessee's education system is complimented this way by author Lillian Perrine Davis in The Lexington Progress newspaper, "Mrs. Reese is a woman of brains and intelligence and force of character--absolutely fearless and thoroughly determined to change some of the deplorable conditions which have prevailed in the Memphis schools."

Later in her life, Lula became the superintendent for the Tennessee Children's Home in Nashville, an institution which housed and rehomed children from families that could not previously care for them. Lula died in May 1926 in Miami, Florida. Lula Colyar Reese is recognized as a suffragist, one of the first two women elected to the Memphis school board, and as president of the Nineteenth Century Club on the Women of Achievement coalition website, an organization dedicated to recognizing and awarding women including suffragists like Reese. Lula was among other Nineteenth Century Club members who were instrumental in the fight for women's suffrage by delivering speeches in the Tennessee Legislature which garnered support for their cause. A photograph of Mrs. Lula Colyar Reese can be found in The Mid-South And Its Builders: Being the Story of the Development and a Forecast of the Future of the Richest Agricultural Region in the World on page 793 and on page 8 of the December 15, 1920 The News Scimitar Fourth Edition newspaper.


1860 U.S. Federal Population Census, District No. 1, Franklin County, Tennessee, digital image "Lula Colyar,"

1900 U.S. Federal Population Census, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, digital image "Lula Reese,"

1910 U.S. Federal Population Census, Jefferson Township, Marion County, Arkansas, digital image "Lula Reese,"

1920 U.S. Federal Population Census, Memphis City, Shelby County, Tennessee, digital image "Lula Reese,"

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900). Rochester, N.Y., 1902 [LINK].

Blackwell, Alice Stone. The Woman Citizen, Vol. 4., No. 1 Leslie Woman Suffrage Commission, 1919.

Carroll County Democrat. "Issues an Appeal for Registration." September 28, 1917. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

CurtisAmerica. "Lula Colyar." Curtis-Colyar family of Somerset, Ky. Accessed August 4, 2020.

Ed. Mooney, Charles Patrick Joseph. The Mid-South and Its Builders: Being the Story of the Development and a Forecast of the Future of the Richest Agricultural Region in the World. Memphis: Thomas W. Briggs Company, 1920.

Official Register and Directory of Women's Clubs in America, Vol. XVIII, Shirley, MA: Helen M. Winslow, 1916.

Preservation. "The Ladies' Hermitage Association Saves the Hermitage." Andrew Jackson's Hermitage Home of the People's President. Accessed August 4, 2020.'s%20home%20has,%E2%80%9Cshrine%E2%80%9D%20to%20Andrew%20Jackson.

Tennessee: The Volunteer State, 1769-1923. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923.

The Chattanooga News. "Important Suffrage Meeting Wednesday." June 17, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The Chattanooga News. "Suffragists Elect Mrs. H. Goodman President of Local Association." August 16, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The Fayette Falcon. "Local and Personal." October 15, 1915. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The Fayette Falcon. "Suffrage Speaking." October 22, 1915. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The Lexington Progress. "Suffrage News and Notes." November 10, 1916. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The Lexington Progress. "Suffrage News and Notes." November 17, 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

The Nashville Tennessean. "Children's Home Cares for 206 in Year, Finding Suitable Foster Parents." April 20, 1924.

The Nashville Tennessean. "Mrs. Isaac Reese of Memphis Succumbs in Miami." May 22, 1926.

The News Scimitar. "School Board Puts Off Regular Session." November 26, 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The News Scimitar. "Negro Betterment Meeting Planned." May 17, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The News Scimitar. "Women Abandon Plan for Ticket." September 19, 1919. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

The News Scimitar. "The School News Scimitar." December 15, 1920. Chronicling America: Historic America Newspaper. Library of Congress.

Wedell, Marsha. Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915. Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

Women of Achievement. "Downtown." Lula Colyar Reese. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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