Founder of the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls, J. Frankie Pierce was born during or shortly after the Civil War to Nellie Seay, the house slave of a Smith County legislator. Frankie Pierce received her education at the McKee School, a private school in Nashville for African Americans founded by the Presbyterian Church as a mission. She also attended Roger Williams University in Nashville and taught school for a brief period of time. She then married Clement J. Pierce and lived with him in Paris, Texas, until his death.
Upon her return to Nashville, Pierce worked to found an educational institution for delinquent African American girls. Since the African American girls were not permitted in white juvenile institutions or schools, they were placed in local jails if they became delinquent. She was president of the Negro Women’s Reconstruction League, the founder of the Nashville Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, and on the first Committee of Management of the Blue Triangle League of the YWCA.
At the invitation of suffrage leader Catherine Kenny, Pierce addressed the May 1920 state suffrage convention held in the House chamber of the Tennessee capitol. “What will the Negro women do with the vote?” she asked her audience. “We will stand by the white women. . . . We are asking only one thing–a square deal. . . . We want recognition in all forms of this government. We want a state vocational school and a child welfare department of the state, and more room in state schools.”
After the passage of the suffrage amendment, Pierce and Kenny were active in local Democratic Party politics. The vocational school for African American girls became a part of the legislative agenda of the suffragists and the newly organized League of Women Voters of Tennessee. After an extensive lobbying effort by the women the following year in 1921, the general assembly passed the bill creating the school. The school opened its doors two years later, and Pierce became its first superintendent. She held that position until 1939. Pierce had excellent political instincts and held an annual breakfast at the school for state legislators and other community leaders so that they could observe the operation of the school.
Pierce continued to live in Nashville after she retired. She served as the chairman of the Building Campaign for the Negro division to raise funds for the building of the Blue Triangle Branch of the YWCA in 1952. Frankie Pierce died in 1954 and is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville.