March has been named “Women’s History Month.” Hundreds of southern women deserve to be celebrated and honored for their contributions to the advancement of women. However, there are a few women from our fine state of Tennessee who stood out particularly in the Knoxville and University of Tennessee communities. These women include activist Lizzie Crozier French, medical doctor and astronaut, Rhea Seddon, and the one and only Pat Summitt. We applaud these women for the strides they made.
Lizzie Crozier French (1851-1926)
Mrs. French, born and raised in Knoxville, possessed so much ambition. She loved politics and this country, but she knew she could help make this country even better. Mrs. French advocated for the equal rights of women. She focused primarily on the right to education and women’s suffrage. In addition to education and suffrage, Mrs French advocated for separating imprisoned women and children into separate prisons from that of men for the safety and rehabilitation of all prisoners.
Mrs. French accomplished many “firsts” in her lifetime including becoming the elected president of Tennessee Suffrage Association, becoming the first woman to address the general assembly, and the founding of the Knoxville Female Institute, a center for higher learning which offered high school and college level courses. This institute was established to offer women of Knoxville higher education before The University of Tennessee became coeducational.
Rhea Seddon (1947- present)
Rhea Seddon grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. After completing her undergraduate degree, she attended the University of Tennessee Medical School. Several years after completing medical school, Mrs. Seddon became involved with NASA and was part of the first female astronaut initiative. Mrs. Seddon went to Space a total of three times. On the trips, she completed research in her field for NASA. Rhea Seddon was an All-American girl. She even carried her Sigma Kappa Sorority pin into space. She knew exactly what she wanted. Through rigorous training and education, Mrs. Seddon became one of the first women in space.
Pat Summitt (1952-2016)
The woman we all know and love really put women’s basketball on the radar. She was born in Clarksville, Tennessee. After graduating from the University of Tennessee-Martin, she spent the rest of her life in Knoxville, Tennessee. Pat Summitt served as head coach of the Lady Vols for almost 40 years. During her time in the position, she collected 1,098 wins, more than anyone in both men and women’s NCAA basketball. Just as impressive, 14 of her players made it to the Olympic games. Pat Summitt embodied what it means to be a Vol. She served as an inspiration to both her players and fans. Pat Summitt has already been inducted into six different hall of fames and will be forever remembered for what she contributed to the sport of women’s basketball.
To these women and many more, thank you for representing southern women in a way that is worthy of admiration and full of class. You are what it means to be a true southern woman: persistent, kind, and ambitious.
Happy Women’s History Month!