South Slope. Asheville.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Vann (Armstrong)

Lizzie was the sister of my great-grandfather, Sam Richard Vann, Sr.. 
She was pretty progressive for her time, and clearly had a pioneering spirit.  Hats off to her!

Henry County Siftings

By T. Larry Smith

Vol.17, No. 1

First Woman ever elected in Henry County  

     Elizabeth “Lizzie” Vann Armstrong 1879-1940 of Headland was born at Abbeville, Alabama on April 17, 1879 where she was reared.  Her parents were William Calvin Huss Vann 1845-1918, a Confederate soldier, and Martha Kennedy Vann 1853-1925, both are buried in the Abbeville City Cemetery.  Lizzie was the third of nine children that included Dr. James “Jim” Robert Vann who married Mary Edna Wheeler (this writer’s mother, Edna, was named after her); Mary “May” Vann who married Probate Judge Hasting Whitman Owens; Martha “Mockie” Vann who married Dr. Robert Franklin Blackshear, a Headland dentist, Lizzie and Mockie were very close friends; Samuel Richard “Sam” Vann, Sr., a Headland merchant who married Emma Kate Solomon; Ruth Armour Vann who married William Clarence Maddox of Abbeville; William Cass “Coot” Vann of Abbeville who never married and was a WWI soldier; Daniel Denkins “Dan” Vann of Abbeville who never married and was also a WWII soldier; and Kathleen Vann of Abbeville who never married.

     Lizzie was married to Thomas Whitfield “Whit” Armstrong, Sr. 1879-1956, a son of Thomas Sutton Armstrong 1846-1890 and Martha “Mattie” Elizabeth Balkum 1859-1908 (1) Armstrong of the now dead town of Balkum, Alabama. Mattie was married a second time, after T.S. Armstrong’s death, to (2) Thomas Baldwin Gamble 1871-1931 who is buried in the Balkum Cemetery next to his mother, Mattie and T.B. Gamble had several children including James Leon Gamble.  Whit Armstrong, Sr. was a merchant and farmer and he and Lizzie first lived at Balkum, AL. Whit, Sr., was offered the Postmaster’s job at the Balkum P.O. in 1903 but declined; he and Lizzie soon moved to Headland, AL in1903 where he was a merchant while continuing his farming interests at Balkum. Whit, Sr., and Lizzie lived on the north side of East Church Street in Headland next door to Dr. R.F. Blackshear, a Headland dentist who was married to Lizzie’s sister “Mockie”.  Whit, Sr., and Lizzie became parents of three children, (1) Mildred Balkum Armstrong who married Tom Aust, they lived in Headland and had no issue and are buried in the Abbeville City Cemetery; (2) Bill Armstrong was the second child, he married Frances Radford, they were parents of a son and daughter.  Bill was born at Balkum and was very fond of Balkum where he was a large land owner; he and his wife are buried in the Balkum Cemetery.  Bill was an attorney and later became  an Enterprise, AL banker, and his son Thomas “Whit” Armstrong III, is now an Enterprise banker. Bill’s daughter, Mary E. Armstrong Weatherford lives in Enterprise, AL where her husband is an attorney, she and brother Whit III now own the large Armstrong land holdings near Balkum Baptist Church; (3) Thomas Whitfield “Whit” Armstrong, Jr. was the third child of Whit, Sr., and Lizzie; he who died in 1950 at age 33 of a sudden heart attack and was buried in the Abbeville Cemetery.

     Lizzie Vann Armstrong was among the first women who registered to vote in the 1920 county wide elections, in which this election marked the first time that women had the right to vote.  No woman had ever voted in Henry County or held public office prior to 1920. Lizzie was a determined woman and was an ardent homemaker, and was devoted to her family, the Baptist Church, school activities, and her pleasures which included watching movies and playing bridge games, and was active in whatever public issues that came up in Headland and the county.  Lizzie also operated a boarding house and enjoyed cooking. Having a strong constitution, Lizzie announced in October of 1920 to be the first woman to run for a public office in Henry County. Lizzie ran for the office of Constable in Beat One which was the Headland area Beat.  Lizzie won the election and became the first woman to ever be elected to public office in Henry County.  A number of other Beat Constables were also elected across the county in the 1920 election; however, they all were men. Lizzie’s Constable duties included assisting in patrolling the streets when needed, watching over various public events, serving legal papers and warrants, having arresting powers, attending circuit court when called upon, execute summons and return all court papers, pay all monies collected pertaining to the office, and perform all other duties that might be required by law. Constables date back to at least 1850 in Alabama, however, only a few cities and counties use constables today.  Henry County has no constables today as such.

     Lizzie was spending the weekend in Montgomery along with her very close sister, Ruth Maddox, Mrs. George Nichols, Miss Miriam Jean Nichols, and W.L. Solomon all of Abbeville; when on Feb. 10, 1940, she was stricken with a heart attack while momentarily alone in a department store and gave the address of her nephew, Cranford Blackshear, to the attending ambulance drivers; however, she died at age 61 before reaching the hospital in Montgomery.  Headland was shocked to hear the news!  She was looking forward to seeing the movie Gone with the Wind. Her funeral was held in her Headland home with burial in the Vann family plot in the Abbeville City Cemetery.  Lizzie Vann Armstrong was a pioneer in women’s rights in Henry County.  More Anon!

To read more about the Vanns, including more about Lizzie's siblings, click here for my Vann archive.  And be sure, when you scroll down to the bottom of each page, click older posts to keep going.  There's a lot there.

and more photos of Lizzie Vann from cousin Jim Vann's collection

Lizzie is # 19.  Granddaddy Vann is # 17.  For more on Granddaddy Vann, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great work Allen,

Thanks for the addition of this interesting slice of family history. When Daddy reminisce on “Aunt Lizzie”, he recalled her as a great chef and entrepreneur, in recognition of her popular “diner/boarding house” in close juxtaposition to the phone company and Headland schools. I guess we should add politician/stateswoman to her list of avocations?! I’d have loved to have known her.

Her next door neighbor “Aunt Corrine Camp” (GM Vann’s sister) was also quite a progressive for her day. She was one of Headland’s first business-ladies, and I’m guessing among if not the town’s first women-business owners. I was fortunate to have known Co really well and having spent a lot of time with her, it’s safe to say she was a “piece-of-work”—feisty, smart, opinionated, indefatigable in her work ethic, and far ahead of her time.

Keep up the good work in posting this family history for us and our future relatives. Bill