Nashville celebrates 100th anniversary of women's right to vote

Posted at 6:38 AM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 23:47:31-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The city of Nashville dedicated a monument to the Women's Suffrage movement at Centennial Park Tuesday, marking 100 years since the 19th amendment was ratified.

The Nashville Public Library also held a virtual grand opening of its new Votes for Women exhibit at the downtown branch and everyone across Nashville was encouraged to go outside and ring a bell in honor of the anniversary.

The group says it's a great way to preserve the stories of women's rights and a great learning opportunity for children.

“It is interactive for kids, there are going to be placed at the table where they can actually vote on questions they're discussing with their friends and their schoolmates and the answers will go up on this LED screen, and in the meantime, they will have gotten this great education,” said Jeanie Nelson with Votes for Women.

Nashville Public Library holds virtual grand opening of its new Votes for Women exhibit.

Everything from the hats and the dresses, to the scorching August heat, during Tuesday's dedication, took Nashvillians back into the footsteps of some of the better angels of our nature.

The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument dedicated at Centennial Park.

"When they said 'We the People' back in those days, they left out a big part of the people," said Yvonne Woods, the President of the Tennessee Woman's Suffrage Monument Committee.

The statue, featuring five key leaders of the Tennessee movement, is dedicated to how the vote was won. "We’re celebrating today as the day that Tennessee signed the legislation to make the 19th amendment an amendment to the Constitution," said Pat Pierce, the Treasurer of the monument committee.

It's no coincidence the statue ended up at Centennial Park. More than a century ago, Anne Dallas Dudley led a march from the State Capitol to the park. Historians say it was the first of its kind in the south.

The speeches and rallies eventually pressured Tennessee lawmakers to finally take a vote on suffrage.

"We like to talk about the celebration but let me tell you, it was a do or die moment," said Dr. Carole Bucy, a historian for Metro-Nashville.

The deciding vote was cast by Harry Burn, who was poised to vote against suffrage until his mother wrote him a letter.

"My great-great-grandmother had read a speech in the newspaper and she had noticed he had not taken a stand trying to make everybody happy, so she wrote him a letter and asks him to Hurrah vote for suffrage, don’t keep them in doubt," said Tyler Boyd, Burn's great-grandnephew.

But even after that consequential vote, there was no massive celebration.

"There was no bell ringing because the suffragists knew the antis were not going to be very lady-like in their concession," quipped Dr. Bucy.

Bucy explained there were several legal and legislative efforts to overturn the Tennessee suffrage vote, so organizers held off on any celebrations.

It's safe to say this generation of women made up for the lost time. At noon, the crowd at the dedication gathered around the monument to ring their bells in celebration of the centennial.

An all-women skydiving team also performed a breath-taking landing in honor of the anniversary.

All of this, to mark the day Tennessee listened to the better angels of our nature. "It changed the lives of women forever," said Pierce.

If you'd like to see the statue for yourself, it's on a new walkway in front of the Parthenon in Centennial Park.

Earlier in the day, Tennessee State lawmakers reenacted the state's historic vote for the 19th Amendment on the floor of the House chamber at the State Capitol.