A slew of state leaders will be on hand Friday for the unveiling of the Woman Suffrage Monument, a statue in Nashville’s Centennial Park that celebrates Tennessee’s important role in establishing women’s right to vote nationwide.
Although Tennessee wasn’t the first state to establish women’s suffrage — that honor actually belongs to Wyoming, where women have been able to vote since the 1860s — the state was where ratification of the 19th Amendment was completed.
That historic vote represented a turning point in American politics, says Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan.
Tennessee had been a place where women had historically had their rights circumscribed. State lawmakers were reluctant in 1920 to ratify the 19th Amendment, with the outcome famously hinging on a single legislator, who threw his support behind women’s suffrage only after some last-minute lobbying from his mother.
That skepticism made Tennessee no different from much of the rest of the South, McMillan conceded. But by changing course, the state helped redefine what women were allowed to do, she added.
“I think that having women being able to vote really opened the door for women in the future to begin to hold office, to own their own businesses, to become an integral part of society and part of public life.”
McMillan is a former majority leader in the state House of Representatives and in 2010 became the first woman elected mayor of a Tennessee city with more than 100,000 people. She’ll be among those taking part in the unveiling ceremony, along with leaders such as Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and House Speaker Beth Harwell.
The monument depicts five important suffragists: Anne Dallas Dudley, Frankie Pierce, Carrie Chapman Catt, Sue Shelton White and Abby Crawford Milton. All but Catt were Tennesseans.
They’re wearing sashes and carrying placards as if leading a pro-suffrage march. Centennial Park was a staging ground for such rallies.
The project was commissioned by the Yellow Rose Society, a group dedicated to remembering the fight for women’s suffrage. Local sculptor Alan LeQuire designed the monument.
Its unveiling takes place on the 96th anniversary of women’s suffrage becoming the law of the land.