The Lizzie

March 1, 2018

Why Lizzie?

Every June at the Ignite Women’s Leadership Summit, a deserving woman becomes the recipient of the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award, or The Lizzie.  Who is Lizzie French and why is there an award named for her?

Residents of East Tennessee may be familiar with the Woman Suffrage Memorial on Knoxville’s Market Square. The statue is three women suffragists, one for each of Tennessee’s three grand divisions. Lizzie, a Knoxville native, represents East Tennessee and stands at the front of the statue.

Lizzie was born in 1851 and grew up with four sisters and in a house filled with books. Her politician father encouraged his daughters to read, to be educated, and to speak up.  When Lizzie was 21, she married William French. They had a son, also named William, but within 18 months of their marriage, Lizzie became a widow and single mother.  She never remarried.

Neither that great loss, or the challenge of being a single mother, stopped Lizzie.  She was a woman who saw a need and filled it, saw injustice and challenged it. Throughout her life, Lizzie broke barriers, exemplified great courage, and became a woman of “firsts.” The Lizzie is designed to commemorate her courage, her activism, and her determination.

Lizzie traveled a lot, gathering ideas for reform and improvement. In her mid 30s, she established the Ossoli Circle, a literary and charitable organization that was also Tennessee’s first women’s club. Around the same time, she and her sisters reopened the East Tennessee Female Institute where she served as principal for five years. When the Institute lost its lease, Lizzie refocused her energies into political activism.

Between 1889 and 1892, Lizzie led the successful charge to make the University of Tennessee a co-ed institution. She also established the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, whose goal was to promote social reform. That group advocated for the City of Knoxville to name a police matron to oversee female inmates and keep them separate from male inmates.  As an advocate for this reform, Lizzie became the first woman to speak before the City Council. The outcome was that Knoxville was the first city in the South to create this position. Later, Lizzie stepped before the Tennessee General Assembly (the first woman to do so) to successfully advocate for a separate prison for women and children.

In 1912, as the first woman to address the Tennessee Bar Association, Lizzie gave a fiery speech challenging the state’s legal bias toward women. She was extremely active in the suffrage movement and served as president of the Tennessee Suffrage Association, leading women to write letters-to the editor of newspapers across the state. In 1923, three years after women won the right to vote, Lizzie became the first woman to run for Knoxville City Council, but she was not successful.

When she was 75-years-old, Lizzie travelled to Washington D.C. with a two-fold purpose. One was to ensure that a bill supporting working women was introduced to Congress. The other was to help furnish a Tennessee Room for the National Women’s Party. Lizzie died during her trip to D.C. and is today buried in Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery.

Lizzie Crozier French was a role model, a tireless advocate, and a courageous, forward-thinking woman who loved her community.  No wonder there is a statue and also a woman’s leadership award that honor her.

September 22, 2015

Four East Tennesseans in 2015 Women’s Hall of Fame Class

Photo:Mcclung Historical Collection, Knox Public Library

Photo:Mcclung Historical Collection, Knox Public Library

The namesake of our Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award  is one of the first two posthumous inductions into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame. Lizzie was nominated for induction by the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council based on her deep commitment to suffrage as well as devotion to the Knoxville community. Read Lizzie’s bio here.

The second posthumous induction is Dr. Elizabeth Rona, Anderson County. Before immigrating to the U.S., Dr. Rona was the first woman to teach chemistry in any university in Hungary. Here in the U.S., she worked on the front lines of discoveries of isotopes and fission and contributed to the Manhattan Project. Later, she taught theory and methods of nuclear physics at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (now known as the Oak Ridge Associated Universities).

Joy Bishop, Maryville, was the first career woman in the U.S. Air Force to be appointed to the Senior Executive Service position, one of the highest ranking civilian positions at the Pentagon. Joy is a well-known community leader and extraordinary community volunteer.

Carol Gardner Transou, Johnson City, teaches U.S. history, is an AP Exam consultant, and chairs the history department at Science Hill High School. She has authored a number of curricula regarding wartime and women’s history. She was one of the founders of the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee.

Register to attend the induction ceremony.

May 7, 2014

Scripps Networks Interactive’s Cynthia Gibson is 3rd “Lizzie” Recipient

Lizzie Crozier French dedicated her life to improving the standing of women in the world. From her suffragist work to getting women admitted to the University of Tennessee to getting women and men housed separately in the local jail, French sought equality for women on all fronts. This year’s leadership award winner has long used both her Cynthia Gibsonprofessional and personal pursuits to “lift as she climbed.”

The East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council is proud to announce today, on the 163rd birthday of the award’s namesake that Scripps Networks Interactive’s Cynthia Gibson will become the third recipient of the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award.  She will receive the award on Friday, June 13 at the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit. Gibson, who is executive vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary at the company, leads the way in professional circles and nonprofit realms promoting women.

During the course of her career, Gibson has experienced many “firsts.” Prior to coming to Knoxville, Gibson was the first female attorney and eventually the first woman managing partner in a Cincinnati, Ohio, law firm. She’s now the first female chief legal officer at Scripps Networks.

“Throughout my career there’ve been many times when I was the only woman in the room,” says Gibson. “I quickly learned that fact made it even more important that I speak up and contribute, and to work hard to ensure soon there were other women in the room too. To me that’s the spirit of this award, which I’m honored to be receiving: that we should all strive to help lift others up while we climb ourselves.”

Today, she is involved with Women in Cable Telecommunications and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications. She recently participated in the Women in Cable Telecommunications Senior Executive Summit. Gibson is a member of the Legacy Society of the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee and she chairs the board of directors of United Way Worldwide’s National Women’s Leadership Council and is a founding member and past chairperson of Knoxville’s Women of Tocqueville for United Way.

As with previous recipients (Mayor Madeline Rogero and Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee), Gibson is being awarded “The Lizzie” award to acknowledge her ongoing dedication to the principles set out by the award’s namesake.

Chair of the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council, Wendy Pitts Reeves says, “Each of the women who have been chosen to receive The Lizzie is a leader, not only in her field, but also in recognizing the importance of raising up women. Cynthia Gibson, like Mayor Rogero and Justice Lee, understands how critical it is to our community and to all of East Tennessee to encourage women in all walks of life to bring the very best of themselves to the table every day.”

May 7, 2013

East Tennessee Justice to receive “The Lizzie” Leadership Award

On May 7th, the birthday of Knoxville’s Lizzie Crozier French, the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Council announced that Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee will receive the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award at the June 14th  Summit.


(l to r) Carla Kimble, Kim Lauth, Dr. Dena Wise, Justice Lee, Wendy Pitts Reeves, Sharon Hannum, Deb Schmitz, Susanne Dalton Dupes

Crozier French is noted for several firsts in her fight for women’s suffrage, including being the first woman to address the Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee General Assembly, and the first to run for Knoxville City Council.  The winner of this year’s leadership award named in her honor is also a ground breaker.


Justice Sharon G. Lee

Justice Lee was the first woman to serve as judge on the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in its 79-year history.  She has worked diligently to advance women within her profession, having served as president of the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women, and as a board member of the Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women.

Just like last year’s inaugural recipient, Mayor Madeline Rogero, Justice Lee is being awarded “The Lizzie” at this year’s Summit in recognition of her ongoing dedication to the principles so strongly demonstrated by the award’s namesake.  The recipient of the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award must demonstrate four leadership characteristics that were so much a part of the life of Lizzie Crozier French.

As one who has repeatedly broken new ground for women in her profession, Justice Lee’s work in the community has previously been recognized by YWCA of Knoxville with their Tribute to Women Award and by the Woman of Achievement Award from the Girls Scouts of the Appalachian Council.

May 10, 2012

First “Lizzie” Leadership Award to Be Presented at June 15th Women’s Leadership Summit

East Tennessee Suffragist and Change Leader Memorialized in Award

Knoxville, TN – The Emmy, the Oscar, the Tony, and now the Lizzie. The first annual Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award will be presented on June 15th at the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit. The award is announced today, May 7th, on the 161st birthday of the East Tennessee suffragist, whose image can be found on the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial on Knoxville’s Market Square.

According to Sharon Hannum, co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Summit, “Lizzie Crozier French was a woman who was always trying to make things better for women, always speaking up, always ready to make change when change needed to be made.”

Lizzie French aggressively advocated for women to be admitted to the University of Tennessee, with obvious success. She was the first woman to address the Knoxville City Council, the Tennessee General Assembly, and the Tennessee Bar Association. Ever an advocate for women, even venturing a failed bid as the first woman to run for Knoxville City Council, French was also a strong advocate for local culture. She founded the now-renowned Ossoli Circle, the Writers’ Club of Knoxville; and the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union. French was also a charter member of the Knoxville Art Museum and the Knoxville Lyceum.

“Lizzie was such a role model for women, for how we should embrace change and always strive to improve our circumstances,” said Wendy Pitts Reeves, the Summit’s other co-chair. “By creating this annual award, we are giving women an opportunity to celebrate those principles and their value.”

Criteria for the Lizzie Crozier French Women’s Leadership Award are that the recipient will be a woman who, like the award’s namesake, best demonstrates the following leadership characteristics.

1. An outspoken leader who publicly supports the advancement of women.

2. Demonstrates unwavering courage in the face of difficulty.

3. Works boldly and consistently towards positive and lasting change

4. Supports and empowers other women through her work.

This year’s recipient will be announced June 15th at the East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit: “Live. Learn. Lead.” at the Airport Hilton. Headlining the event at the Airport Hilton is internationally recognized keynote speaker Martha Mertz, founder of ATHENA International and author of Becoming ATHENA: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.

The Summit, sponsored by WBIR-TV and B97.5, is an updated presentation of the East Tennessee Regional Economic Summit for Women held for the past five years. It is an initiative of the Women’s Economic Council Foundation, and is being co-chaired by Wendy Pitts Reeves and Sharon Hannum. More information about the summit is available at or on Facebook at East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit or Twitter @EastTNWomenLead.

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