Sue Shelton White

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Sue Shelton White (May 25, 1887 – May 6, 1943), called Miss Sue, was a feminist leader and lawyer originally from Henderson, Tennessee who served as a national leader of the women's suffrage movement.

Sue Shelton White circa 1920


Sue Shelton White was born on May 25, 1887, in Henderson, Tennessee, the second of three children of James Shelton White and Mary Calista (Swain) White. Her father, a lawyer and Methodist minister, died when she was nine. When her mother died four years later, White went to live with an aunt. When she was sixteen she took a teacher training course at Georgia Robertson Christian College (now Freed Hardman University) and the following year (1904-1905) attended West Tennessee Business College.[1] She started her career as a court reporter.[2]


White eventually became the recording secretary of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, and the Tennessee state chair of the National Woman's Party.[2]

White joined the woman suffrage movement in 1912. She was originally active in the moderate Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association (an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association), and was elected recording secretary for that organization in 1913,[3] but gradually concluded that Alice Paul and Lucy Burns' more radical National Woman's Party, whose speaking tour through Tennessee by Maud Younger she had helped facilitate, was advocating policies and methods which would be more effective. She joined the NWP in 1918, became chair of the Tennessee chapter, and moved to Washington, D.C., where she edited the organization's newspaper, The Suffragist.[3]

With other members of the NWP, White drew national attention when on February 19, 1919, they held the latest of their Silent Sentinels series of demonstrations in front of the White House and burned a paper effigy of President Woodrow Wilson (which White herself dropped into the fire) to protest Wilson's lack of energy in pressuring balky Senators of his own party. White, with others, was arrested and jailed.[4] After her release, White and others like her chartered a railroad car they called the "Prison Special," which toured the United States to keep the issue of suffrage before the public.

After Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, White returned home and helped Tennessee achieve ratification.[3]

After the 19th Amendment[edit]

From 1920 to 1926, White served as an administrative secretary running the Washington office of Tennessee Kenneth McKeller.[4]

In 1923, White earned a law degree from Washington College of Law.[4] Three years later, she returned to Jackson, TN as the city’s first female attorney and to work for her own law firm, Anderson and White.[3]

In 1928, white worked with the Midwestern division of the Democratic National Committee. At request of Eleanor Roosevelt, White also helped organize a Tennessee Business and Professional Women's League for Alfred E. Smith.[1]

She worked in the 1932 presidential campaign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and from 1934 (when she moved to Washington, D.C.) held a variety of posts in the New Deal, culminating in her role as principal counsel of the Social Security Administration.[4]

After a long bout with cancer, White died on May 6, 1943, at the Alexandria, Virginia, home she shared with Florence Armstrong, her long-term friend.[5]


On August 26, 2016, as part of Women's Equality Day, a monument by Alan LeQuire was unveiled in Centennial Park in Nashville, featuring depictions of White, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anne Dallas Dudley, Abby Crawford Milton, and Juno Frankie Pierce.[6][7]


  • "Sue Shelton White", in Adams, Katherine H. and Michael L. Keene, After the Vote Was Won: The Later Achievements of Fifteen Suffragists Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2010; pp. 143–150 and passim
  • Huehls, Betty Sparks. Sue Shelton White: Lady Warrior Memphis: University of Memphis Press, 2002


  1. ^ a b "White, Sue Shelton, 1887-1943. Papers of Sue Shelton White, 1898-1963 (inclusive), 1909-1963 (bulk): A Finding Aid". Retrieved 2016-11-12. 
  2. ^ a b Burns, David (2013-02-28). The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus. OUP USA. ISBN 9780199929504. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Unveiling suffrage on Women's Equality Day". The Jackson Sun. Retrieved 2016-11-12. 
  4. ^ a b c d Adams, Katherine H.; Keene, Michael L. (2010-07-01). After the Vote Was Won: The Later Achievements of Fifteen Suffragists. McFarland. ISBN 9780786456475. 
  5. ^ "Sue Shelton White | Entries | Tennessee Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2016-11-12. 
  6. ^ 5:33 PM, Aug 26, 2016. "Women's Suffrage Monument Unveiled - Story". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  7. ^ "Nashville's Newest Monument Celebrates State's Role In Women's Winning The Right To Vote". Nashville Public Radio. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 

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