Mary Frances "Fannie" Battle


Fannie Battle, Confederate spy and social reformer, was born in the Cane Ridge community of Davidson County on her family's plantation. Educated at the Nashville Female Academy, Battle was living at home when the Civil War began. Her father and brothers enlisted in the Confederate army and saw action in the battles of Fishing Creek, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh. Two brothers died at Shiloh, and her father, Joel Battle, was taken prisoner.

When the Union army occupied Nashville in March 1862 shortly after the surrender of Fort Donelson, Battle and a sister-in-law joined a group of scouts and spies who gathered information about Federal forces stationed in the city. Many of the Confederate spies were young women who dated Union soldiers in order to obtain information about troop movements and the strength of Federal defenses in Nashville. Battle obtained a Federal pass and entered the city without difficulty. When Battle was caught smuggling documents, she was imprisoned in the Tennessee State Penitentiary before being transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., where she was incarcerated with other female Confederate spies. Battle returned to Nashville at the end of the war and accepted a position as a teacher at Howard School. She taught at various Nashville schools from 1870 to 1886.

In December 1881, following the flooding of the Cumberland River, Battle persuaded prominent Nashville civic leaders to organize a relief society for the impoverished flood victims living in the low-lying areas near the river. The Nashville Relief Society dispensed food, clothing, and coal to more than one thousand people left homeless by the flood. A separate Ladies Relief Society formed the next year, and Battle served as its treasurer.

After meeting the critical needs of the flood victims, Battle and other leaders of the society organized the United Charities. When United Charities faced difficulties raising money to pay a competent secretary to manage the organization, Battle left teaching to accept the post. She served as secretary-general of United Charities until her death.

As secretary Battle became keenly aware of the many Nashville children who were neglected while their parents worked. Battle rented a room in a North Nashville neighborhood near the cotton mills that employed women mill workers and established a daycare program. The program grew quickly, and Battle recruited physicians and other professionals to donate services to the children. The program became the Addison Avenue Day Home, Nashville's first daycare facility. Fannie Battle died in 1924 and is buried in Nashville's Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

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  • Article Title Mary Frances "Fannie" Battle
  • Coverage 1842-1924
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018