Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Frances Griffin, 1843-1917
By Karen Urbec, MLIS
Frances Griffin was a pioneer of the suffrage movement in Alabama, and though she did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment, her work was influential in changing people's minds and expanding beliefs about the role of women in society.
Griffin was born in Wetumpka, Alabama in 1843. She graduated from Judson College and worked as a schoolteacher in public and private schools in Montgomery. Little is known of her early life or family of origin. Her political involvement began with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union where she became a group organizer in 1885.
The suffrage movement struggled to gain traction in Alabama in part because of traditionalist views of a woman's role in society. Women were expected to focus their efforts on maintaining their homes and families and not be active in the public sphere. Women working to encourage temperance were expanding their influence beyond their homes, but this was socially acceptable because it still encompassed women's traditional sphere of influence. Temperance work, as well as work to abolish child labor, encourage literacy, and enact prison reform, were all seen as ways to improve one's community, and so it was in line with views of "Southern womanhood." While doing this work, women became adept at organizing and began to exercise influence beyond their immediate households.
Ms. Griffin's temperance work took her to Texas in 1890 where she spoke before the Texas legislature. Soon, she chose to focus primarily on the suffrage movement, and organized a branch of the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association.
Women's clubs were places where women could gather to study various public issues and discuss ways to reform society's ills. Ms. Griffin organized a women's club in Verbena, Alabama in 1892. Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt spoke in Huntsville, Alabama on January 29, 1895, and though there were positive reviews in newspapers, entrenched views on women were not changed significantly.
In 1901, Griffin spoke at the state's constitutional convention, becoming the first woman in Alabama to do so. She spoke in favor of granting women the vote, and against the beliefs of the day, arguing that women were well educated and wanted the opportunity to vote. She also stated that politics was a corrupt business because women had been excluded from it, and that it was women who would clean it up. The delegates initially voted to allow women to vote in municipal elections, but overturned that decision the next day. The proposal for women to vote in any election was defeated 87 to 22.
Some sources say Ms. Griffin served as the president of Alabama's Suffrage Association in 1902, and others say she held that position from 1903-1904; whichever is true, she stepped back from suffrage work in 1905, though it is unclear why.
The setback after the constitutional convention was significant. There was a renewal of activity in 1910, when the suffrage conventions were held around the state, and public lectures were organized and literature was made available, but it was an uphill battle. Some newspapers published suffrage sections, but none endorsed women's suffrage. In addition, the Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs did not take a position on the issue, and no women teachers, no church groups, and no men's organizations spoke out in favor of women's suffrage. Also, the Southern Anti-Suffrage Association fought against it.
Frances Griffin never married and died in Alabama in 1917, so she never saw the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She is remembered as a smart and quick-spoken woman who was not concerned about others' approval, and instead focused on expanding women's roles and breaking through barriers. Though bound by the law since 1920, the Alabama legislature did not vote to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1953.
Portrait available here: http://digital.archives.alabama.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/photo/id/20031/rec/65
History professor looks back on four Alabama suffrage leaders and their fight for the vote, by Carla Davis. Published March 3, 2020, retrieved August 2, 2020. https://alabamanewscenter.com/2020/03/03/history-professor-looks-back-on-four-alabama-suffrage-leaders-and-their-fight-for-the-vote/
Alabama Women's Suffrage Centennial, 1920-2020 https://www.alabamawomen100.org/frances-griffin
They are too sweet or angelic to reason, or, How women got the vote in Alabama, by Nancy M. Rohr. Published September 8, 2013, retrieved June 3, 2020. https://huntsvillehistorycollection.org/hh/index.php?title=%22They_Are_Too_Sweet_and_Angelic_to_Reason,%22_Or,_How_Women_Got_the_Vote_in_Alabama
History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI, 1900-1920. Ida Husted Harper, editor. National American Woman Suffrage Association, JJ Little & Ives Company, New York, 1922. [LINK to AL state report]