The Johnson City TN Suffrage Coalition's Legacy Project: A Mural
…to be installed on Ashe Street at the intersection of Earnest Street
and scheduled for public reveal in the fall of 2020.
The mural as depicted above carries the following story:
The Coalition commissioned artist Ellen Elmes to design and paint the mural. Depicted in three stages, her design honors the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement with a focus on the Johnson City and Tennessee stories. It commemorates the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment through the celebration of a diverse and cohesive movement that continues to impact the social standing of women in our society today.
This mural centers around an artistic rendering of an historic march held in Johnson City on October 7, 1916. The design features portraits of many of Johnson City’s leading suffrage activists as well as national and local leaders in relevant movements; creating visual bridges as phases [phases are further explained below] from the early Suffragist ancestors onward through other enfranchisement activists ultimately leading to a diverse grouping of current people who have benefited from their sacrifices. No currently living people are depicted.
The mural also recognizes the fact that the 19th amendment did not grant all women the right to vote as it depicts four stages of legislation that impacted enfranchisement during the 20th century. Seen as a “passing of the torch,” beginning with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, the mural illustrates the Snyder Act of 1924, which gave citizenship to First Nations people; the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, which allowed people of Asian descent to immigrate and become citizens; and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which made voting restrictions to African American voters illegal.
- from the Johnson City TN Suffrage Centennial Celebration* Website: www.jctnsuffrage.org
*Definition and Mission: The Centennial Celebration Coalition is an inclusive, non-partisan alliance honoring the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement focused on the Johnson City and Tennessee stories. Our objectives are to educate our community and celebrate the winning of Women’s franchise.
Completed Panels of the Johnson City Centennial Celebration Mural:
Left Side Fabric Panel (wall size: 5’Wx12’H)
Right Side Fabric Panel (wall size: 5’Wx12’H)
The six women depicted here on two fabric segments represent the founding leaders of the early American Suffragist Movement. The women are:
(top row, l to r) Matilda Joslyn Gage, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth;
(bottom row, l to r) Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
The Movement was formally launched at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention with the passage and adoption of twelve resolutions, (including that women have the right to vote), and a “Declaration of Sentiments,” with a passage from it stated on this panel: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” The sunflower at the top of the panel symbolizes when the Suffragists first used in 1867 the Kansas state flower as part of their campaign for a state suffrage referendum. The yellow color later became one of the Suffragist’s iconic colors, along with purple and white.
The right side panel (two fabric segments) depicts contemporary teens and young women who are gazing back into the history of American, Tennessee, and Johnson City Suffragists whose determined activism over many years won the right to vote that women enjoy today. The cultural ethnicities of the young people rendered here (left to right, then below) reflect back to the African American, Asian American, Native American, and European American women depicted horizontally across the middle of the mural as 20th century leaders in the struggle for political franchise for all Americans. Three of the figures are meant to be symbolic of youth, proud of their female and cultural heritage, and are not portraits of particular individuals. The young woman using a wheelchair honors the work and achievement of Diana Elmes, a real person, now deceased, who was the artist's sister-in-law. As a young law student, she worked on a President’s Committee on Disabilities that developed the first disability legislation passed by Congress in the 1970s. She later worked in President Jimmy Carter's administration, occasionally writing speeches for Rosalynn Carter and participating in an international effort to develop disabilities legislation.
Upper Left of Middle Fabric Panel (wall size: approx. 12’H x 30’W)
Across the top of this middle panel imagery depicts other Woman Suffrage leaders working more broadly nationally and across the state of Tennessee to secure votes for women through ratifying the 19th Amendment. Carrie Chapman Catt, prominent Suffrage leader and president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, is featured here in the upper left corner on her celebratory return to New York City after the ratification in the Tennessee legislature of the 19th Amendment. To the right, Governor Albert J. Roberts is depicted signing the certificate of ratification passed by the Tennessee General Assembly on August 18, 1920, with a Suffragist looking on. This made Tennessee the 36th state to vote for the Amendment and thereby the final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. When 24-year-old legislator Harry T. Burn changed his vote to support ratification, he broke a tie in the TN House of Representatives and made history. Harry Burn’s mother, Febb E. Burn, is depicted here to the right of the governor. She wielded significant influence upon her son’s last-minute, changed vote when she wrote him a letter asking him to “be a good boy” and vote for the amendment, (an abbreviated segment of her letter is rendered here).
Upper Middle Segment of Middle Fabric Panel (wall size: approx. 12’H x 30’W)
Many Johnson City leaders worked closely with other Suffragists across the state and nation, traveling to Knoxville, Nashville, and even Washington DC to plan, organize and facilitate the work of amendment ratification. The state leaders centered at the top of this panel include (from left to right): Juno Frankie Pierce, (founder of the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls in Nashville), who was invited by Catherine Kenny to speak at the 1916 Woman Suffrage Parade event in Johnson City; Catherine Kenny, Chattanooga organizer of numerous suffrage clubs in rural Tennessee; Sue Shelton White, Chairwoman of the National Women’s Party of TN; and Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women, and founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Lower Right Segment of Middle Fabric Panel (wall size: approx. 12’H x 30’W)
On the left side of this segment is Johnson City Suffragist Margaret Hayes Powell, who once served as Vice-Chair of the Nashville Congressional Women’s Union. To her right, is depicted Mary Eliza Shaut White who served on many local, statewide and national organizations—including as Chairwoman of the National Woman’s Party for one year—in her commitment to ratifying the 19thAmendment. Her activism gave her the honor of leading the Johnson City 1916 parade atop a horse and draped in a Greco-Roman, goddess-style cape, as a re-enactment of Inez Milholland’s lead in Washington DC’s famous 1913 Woman’s Suffrage Parade organized by Alice Paul for the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Middle Threesome of Lower Segment of Middle Fabric Panel (wall size: approx. 12’H x 30’W)
Knoxville Suffragist Mary Nelson Meriwether is depicted on the left side of the cluster of three women along the lower edge of this mural panel. She was one of the featured speakers in the program following the 1916 “Vote for Women” parade in Johnson City. She served as the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Vice-Chairman, and as the Representative for the Tennessee Branch of the Congressional Union to the National Headquarters in 1916. In the middle of the threesome is Mildred Crystal Smith, who resided with her husband Amzi Smith in Johnson City, and who was photographed attending the Women’s Federation Convention of 1903. The third woman portrayed here does not represent a real person – she just represents the spirit of joy and pride that many participants in the Johnson City parade must have felt that day.