Aug. 17, 2020 -- On Aug. 18,1920, Tennessee became the “Perfect 36” and necessary state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women in the United States the right to vote. Harry Burn, the Tennessee State Representative from Niota, received a letter from his mother, Febb Burn urging him to “be a good boy” and vote for the Suffrage Amendment. Suffragists were plentiful in Nashville during that August wearing and giving away yellow roses; red roses were the choice of anti-suffragists. Nashville florists were kept busy during the legislative session, and the Hermitage Hotel was the site of many lobbying efforts – both honorable and clandestine.
Johnson City was a central hub of suffrage activism/organizing activities and an integral part of a national movement for women’s enfranchisement in the early 1900s, hosting a statewide meeting of the Tennessee Congressional Union Party at 113 Spring St. in 1917.
Inspired by the 1913 Washington, D.C. suffragist parade, Johnson City suffragist Eliza Shaut White led a parade supporting women’s suffrage through downtown Johnson City on Oct. 7, 1916. Following White on her horse were several automobiles and a drum and fife band from Mountain Home. The event ended in a pro-suffrage rally near Fountain Square.
To recognize the Johnson Citians who fought for suffrage and to honor all those who passed the torch for voting rights to other disenfranchised Americans throughout history, the Centennial Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Johnson City has commissioned a mural by artist Ellen Elmes. Located at 400 Buffalo St. (facing Ashe Street), the mural commemorates this centennial anniversary through the depiction of a diverse and cohesive movement that continues to impact the social standing of women in our society today.
In a ceremony livestreamed from the Centennial Suffrage Celebration Coalition’s Facebook page (@jctnsuffrage), the mural will be presented to Johnson City at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10. Stacey White Ferren, granddaughter of Eliza Shaut White, will lead a procession of Coalition participants in Suffragist attire, replicating segments of the Oct. 7, 1916 Johnson City suffrage parade. Historical vignettes will be presented by participants from Girls Inc. of Johnson City followed by a visit from Harry Burn and his mother, Febb Burn. To end the event, artist Ellen Elmes will present the mural to Mayor Jenny Brock.
Those in attendance will be required to follow CDC and local health guidelines, including wearing masks and maintaining proper social distance.
This project was funded by donations from the community to the Coalition, Bravissima! Women Sponsoring the Arts!, and Johnson City Public Arts. In-kind sponsorship was provided by the East Tennessee State University’s Reece Museum and the Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement. More information concerning the mural can be found at the Coalition web site: www.jctnsuffrage.org.