Organized in 1896, the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs was designed to bring together women’s clubs from across the state into one organization that would provide communication among its members. A decade after the founding of the first women’s clubs in Tennessee, twenty women’s clubs sent representatives to a statewide organizational meeting called by Lizzie Crozier French, a well-known teacher and activist, and the Ossoli Circle in Knoxville. The women elected Mrs. W. D. Beard as president and agreed to meet the next year in Memphis at the Nineteenth Century Club. During the Memphis meeting, the delegates adopted the club motto, “Unity of Purpose.” Education was a primary purpose of the federation, and French was named chair of the educational committee.
Federation leaders soon realized that many issues before the state legislature affected the lives of women across the state. The federation created a legislative committee to monitor general assembly meetings and inform members of pending legislation. The committee studied bills and adopted a legislative program to facilitate the passage of laws requiring compulsory education, allowing women to serve on local school boards, providing equal pay for female teachers, establishing a vocational school for delinquent girls, instituting pure food and drug standards, and improving labor conditions for women and children. Although the annual convention endorsed the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote, many local clubs were divided on the subject of woman suffrage. The federation supported traveling libraries, which brought library services to rural areas, a mountain work division to provide educational opportunities in the Appalachians, and the Hancock County Health Project. Today, the federation has more than ninety member organizations in Tennessee.