Prior to August 26, 2016, there were no monuments outside the Capitol building in Nashville that reflected women’s contributions to our state’s history. There is now a privately funded monument to the Tennessee suffragists in Centennial Park which has a historic connection to the suffrage movement. Thousands of people visit Centennial Park every year, so this story will be preserved for future generations with fabulous public art. We are very appreciative of former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and current Mayor Megan Barry who wanted this monument to be highly visible and receive the important placement it deserves. The monument was unveiled in a temporary location in Centennial Park on August 26, 2016, which is Women’s Equality Day, and will be re-located to a permanent site later when renovations to the park are completed.
The monument features five women who were actually involved in the final ratification battle in Nashville: Anne Dallas Dudley of Nashville; J. Frankie Pierce of Nashville; Sue Shelton White of Jackson; Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga; and national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt who came to Tennessee to direct the pro-suffrage forces from The Hermitage Hotel. Catt worked closely with Rep. Joe Hanover of Memphis to achieve victory in the House.
It also includes plaques of three women who were significant in Tennessee’s political history. These three Tennessee Trailblazers are the late Rep. Lois M. DeBerry, first woman elected speaker pro tempore in the state House and the longest serving member of the House at her death in 2013; the late Jane G. Eskind, first woman to win a statewide race in 1980 which was 60 years after the 19th Amendment’s ratification; and Rep. Beth Halteman Harwell, the first woman to be elected Speaker of the state House in 2011. Their careers were made possible by the suffragists’ victory.
Nashville artist Alan LeQuire created the bas relief plaque, unveiled in February 1998, that hangs inside the state capitol building about the 19th Amendment. He also created the woman suffrage monument in Knoxville that was dedicated in 2006. Now, 97 years later, there is a beautiful monument in Centennial Park depicting the 72-year suffrage struggle which culminated with victory in Tennessee. On May 25, 2017, a statue of Sue Shelton White was unveiled in front of Jackson City Hall. Monuments honoring the suffragists are also planned for Memphis, Clarksville, and Chattanooga.
Nationally, there are roughly 8% of statues featuring women. In Tennessee, we are doing our part to increase that number to recognize women’s contributions to our nation’s history.