Frankie J. Pierce founded the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls with a vision, determination, and courage. Pierce recognized the need to assist young African-American girls throughout the state, and she was inspired to open a school after visiting schools in other southern states. She was primarily influenced by a close friend who worked as a probation officer and was responsible for transporting delinquent black girls to jail because the law prohibited them from entering white institutions.
Pierce was born to Nellie Seay, a slave of a Smith County legislator, after the Civil War. She was educated at Nashville’s John G. McKee Freedmen’s School.
She set out to lay the groundwork for the school’s support by forming the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Negro Women’s Reconstruction Service League. She was also active in The First Colored Baptist Church.
The Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls bill was passed by the General Assembly on April 7, 1921, after extensive lobbying, and the school opened its doors on October 9, 1923. Frankie Pierce became the school’s first superintendent, a position she held until 1939. The school was located at 2700 Heiman Street, sat on 66 acres of land, and employed over sixty people. Girls as young as twelve years old were taken in from all over the state and released through the Division of Juvenile Probation. Academic and vocational training were included in classes up to the ninth grade.
Before closing in 1979, the Tennessee Vocational School for Girls was renamed the Tennessee Reception and Guidance Center for Juveniles. Pierce continued to live in Nashville after her retirement and remained an active community leader. In 1952, she was the chairman of the Building Campaign for the Negro Division, which raised funds for the construction of the Blue Triangle Branch of the YWCA. Pierce passed away in 1954.