Annie Clay Crenshaw, 1869-1932, Richmond, Virginia

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Submitted as a Biosketch for the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project by Esta Tovstiadi, librarian, SUNY at Potsdam, Potsdam NY


Annie Clay was born in 1859 in Richmond, Kentucky. Her parents, both from influential Kentucky families, were Mary Jane Warfield Clay and Cassius Marcellus Clay. She moved to Lexington, KY in 1878 with her mother after her parents divorced. She was active in the Lexington suffrage movement, authoring a column for the Kentucky Gazette. In 1886 at the age of twenty-seven, she married businessman, Spottswood Dabney Crenshaw, and moved to his home of Richmond, Virginia.  They later had four children: daughters Fanny and Warfield, and sons S.D. Junior and Clay Crenshaw. In Richmond she was instrumental in the development of the local suffrage movement. She was also a member of the Women’s Club of Richmond.

Sometime near the end of the nineteenth century, Anne formed and served as the first President of the Madison County Equal Rights Association, but little is known about this organization. Later, she was one of eighteen women involved in the creation of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) of Virginia.  Her home, located at a fashionable address at 919 West Franklin Street, served as the group’s initial meeting place in November 1909. According to records left by one of the attendees at the meeting, the women left in twos and threes to avoid attracting attention as they disbursed as suffrage remained a controversial issue.  The house on West Franklin Street, now owned by Virginia Commonwealth University was renamed Crenshaw House in 2009 and fittingly houses the department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.  

At a second meeting of the new state chapter, again held at her house, Crenshaw was elected to the ESL’s board of directors.  Relying on connections her sister, Laura had with leaders in the movement, she proposed and set in motion a plan to invite Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, to Richmond.  Shaw came in January 1910 as a guest of Crenshaw and stayed in her home. 

Organizing Shaw’s lecture was Crenshaw’s last major contribution to the ESL.  She became less active in the organization in the second decade of the 1900s, possibly due to her responsibilities as a mother.  A granddaughter remembers that though the household relied on servants, Mrs. Crenshaw played an active role in her children’s upbringing and carefully oversaw their day-to-day affairs.  Still, Anne supported the cause of women’s suffrage albeit in less public ways. Around 1915, she signed a petition calling for the General Assembly of Virginia to amend the state’s constitution to include women’s suffrage. Additionally, she registered to vote shortly after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  She believed that women deserved the vote; she believed that women were equal to men, and she acted on these principles.

Crenshaw died in March 1945 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Sources:

"Anne Clay Crenshaw and the Women's Suffrage Movement in Virginia," VCU Libraries.

Bonis, Ray. “Anne Clay Crenshaw and the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Virginia,” VCU Libraries (Spring 1998). 

Fuller, Paul E. Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975.

Johnson, Claire. “Mary Johnston: A Suffragist of, and Ahead of, Her Time,” Fit To Print: Dispatches from the Virginia Newspaper Project (June 28, 2017). Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Kollatz, Jr., Harry. “The Genteel Crusaders,” (August 27, 2012). Richmond Magazine, Target Communications, Inc.

"Crenshaw House," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, submitted by Kelly Spradley-Kurowski. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Porter, Mike. “A Trip Through Time,” VCU News, (November 20, 2009). Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.

"Spotswood Dabney Crenshaw." 75-76 in Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life; a Collection of Biographies of the Leading Men in the State, Volume 5. Lyon G. Tyler, ed. Washington D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company, 1909.