Suzanne Conlan Scruggs (1862-1945), community activist whose social vision helped
transform Memphis, was tireless in her pursuit of civic improvement; and her personal
efforts in a large number of humanitarian enterprises were unparalleled.
She came to Memphis from Boston in 1889 as the wife of Thomas M. Scruggs. The couple
prospered, Mr. Scruggs becoming a prominent attorney and later a judge, and their
family expanded with the arrival of six children, four of whom survived into adulthood.
In 1890, Scruggs, with several other prominent women, founded the Nineteenth Century
Club, which soon became one of the South's premier women's clubs. Club activities
soon turned into pursuit of civic projects, and these Memphis women began to carve
for themselves a public role and image. Scruggs, however, was far in advance of her
peers, and her personal activism was on the cutting edge of women's emergence into
the public sphere.
Scruggs launched the movement that led to citizen involvement in public education
with the formation of the Woman's Public School Association, culminating in the election
of two women to the Board of Education in 1916. It was also Scruggs who addressed
the serious and growing problem of juvenile delinquency in Memphis. Through her persistent
efforts, the Memphis Playground Association was formed in 1908, and she was also the
key figure in the establishment of a juvenile court in 1909. As an adjunct to the
latter, Scruggs organized a Children's Protective Union, of which she was president.
This organization assisted neglected and homeless children, placing them in foster
homes, arranging for adoptions, providing medical care and hospital treatment, and
helping families with temporary difficulties. Scruggs' group performed the functions
of today's social service and welfare agencies, calling attention to the need for
municipal responsibility in such areas.
Dr. Marsha Wedell
Image reproduced with permission of author and courtesy of University of Memphis Libraries,
Special Collections. Elite Women and the Reform Impluse in Memphis, 1875-1915, Marsha
Wedell, University of Tennessee Press, c. 1991.