The other Meriwether sister

Title

The other Meriwether sister

Description

Remember Elizabeth Meriwether, the suffragist who helped start the Memphis chapter of the Ku Klux Klan? She shared her home with her brother- & sister-in-law, Lide Smith Meriwether. Lide was as devoted a suffragist as Elizabeth, and more progressive.

Lide devoted much of the 1870s to supporting local sex workers (forgive the anachronism) and their children. Her view of “fallen women” was progressive for its time: she believed prostitution was a result of economic need, not inherently low morals.

By 1886 Eliz. & her husband had moved to St. Louis. Maybe Lide felt freer to do cross-racial work without them around, because she expanded her activism to the Knights of Labor. KofL was challenging the rapaciousness of RR barons like Jay Gould. It was integrated and co-ed.

KofL held “large, festive, interracial gatherings throughout the South replete with parades that included black women who rode in carriages…” (Paula Giddings) Ida B Wells attended a meeting in Memphis where she was treated “with the courtesy usually extended to white ladies.”

One of the speakers that day was Lide Meriwether. Lide was state president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Under her leadership WCTU organized its 1st Black chapters in the South. A meeting she chaired in 1886 was probably the 1st interracial women's mtng in Memphis. WCTU had a fraught relationship with suffrage, but it was the place to organize respectable women in conservative Memphis.

It took Lide 3 years, but she managed to add a suffrage plank to WCTU’s platform. In 1889 she formed the first suffrage club in Memphis, with 50 members. Lide was truly the face of the white women’s suffrage movement in Tennessee for the rest of the century. She toured the state in the 1890s as a paid organizer for NAWSA, and presided over state suffrage conventions, where she was elected “honorary president for life.”

Lide is honored on the Tennessee Women’s Suffrage Trail @TNSuffrageTrail. @MichelleDuster wrote about the expansion of the trail, which now honors Lide alongside Ida B Wells & Mary Church Terrell (and Elizabeth Meriwether):

Lastly, b/c I can’t make this stuff up: Lide’s daughter Virginia eloped in 1882 (her sister eloped the same night!) Virginia immediately realized she’d made a mistake & returned. Her new husband pursued her, armed. She got hold of his gun, he brandished another, and she shot him.

As he lay dying, he acknowledged she had fired in self-defense. In Memphis, Virginia Meriwether was talk of the town. She moved to New York and enrolled in the Blackwell sisters’ medical school. At her death in 1949 she was the oldest practicing woman doctor in New York.

Creator

Daily Suffragist

Date

10/01/2020

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Citation

Daily Suffragist, “The other Meriwether sister,” Daily Suffragist, accessed October 16, 2021, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/210.

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