by Carol Kaplan.
March is National Women’s History Month, a time to pause and reflect on those who have blazed the trail for us to follow. Here in Nashville it’s an easy and informative exercise, for we often hear the names of the women who have lived here and contributed to our city’s life. Yet, how much do we really know about these ladies, and how many others, just as interesting, have been forgotten?
Caroling for Fannie Battle is a Nashville tradition, but do we know that Miss Fannie, who never received a salary of more than $30 a month during her 50 years of service, was sent to prison for spying during the Civil War? Martha O’Bryan, for whom we crank ice cream, found her life’s meaning in helping others after her fiancé was executed by the Union Army. Christiana Rains, sliding her toddlers across the frozen Cumberland River to found Nashville on Christmas Day, 1779, and Stella Vaughn, the first woman staff member at Vanderbilt in 1905, are both pioneers.
Slave Sally Thomas saved her money and purchased freedom not for herself but for her little boy. Hetty McEwen flew her Union flag in Confederate Nashville. Mary Kate Patterson brought her friend Sam Davis breakfast on his last Sunday of freedom, galloping her horse so the coffee wouldn’t have time to cool.
In ante-bellum Nashville, teacher Charlotte Fall Fanning was so loved by her pupils that an extra Greek lesson was a sought-after treat. In our own time, Julia Green shocked men drivers by driving her Ford. Miss Julia was such a presence that teachers warned of her arrival by passing a green pencil so that everyone would be prepared. Hattie Cotton and Emma B. Clemons spent their lives serving Nashville’s children and were rewarded by having schools named for them. Anne Webber didn’t attend Watkins Institute, but left her large estate to help others do so.
Known primarily as founder of the UDC, Caroline Meriwether Goodlett also helped the horses of Nashville by founding the Tennessee Humane Society and placing drinking troughs on every corner. Needlework designer Anne Champe Orr provided employment for women in Appalachian Kentucky, who completed the appliqued quilts and delicate tablecloths her customers wanted to own, but not to make. Elizabeth Eakin devoted her fortune to the welfare and beautification of her city. Eakin School honors her service as the first female member of the Board of Education in 1917. When her four sons went to serve in World War I, Margaret Winston Caldwell ran their automobile dealership, the only woman dealer in the country. Her sister May Winston Caldwell, saddened by the loss of her son in that war, was the guiding spirit of the Peace or Battle of Nashville Monument. Erected in 1927 to commemorate reconciliation and the sacrifice of young men in war, the monument has recently been restored.
Lula Clay Naff was the manager of the Ryman Auditorium for 50 years, retiring in 1955. Rarely seeing a performance, unfazed by Barrymore, Hepburn, or Helen Hayes, Mrs. Naff always made a profit and never allowed any criticism of the facilities. Mary Dorris, Bettie Donelson, Louise Lindsley, and their friends organized the Ladies’ Hermitage Association and saved Jackson’s home from destruction. Ella Sheppard and her fellow students became the Fisk Jubilee Singers and rescued their university.
Almost all of these women lived and worked before they had the right to vote. Nashville was the battleground for the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Delia Dortch, J. Frankie Pierce, Warner family members, and countless others worked as hard as they ever had, propelled by the vision of leader Anne Dallas Dudley. “We have a vision of a time when a woman’s home will be the whole world, her children all those whose feet are bare, and her sisters all who need a helping hand; a vision of a new knighthood, a new chivalry, when men will not fight for women but for the rights of women.” Ironically, neither Anne Dudley’s nor Kate Burch Warner’s own daughters lived to adulthood to use the right for which their mothers had struggled.
These are just a few of the many women who have had an impact on Nashville. From Rhoda Calvert Barnard, who has a planet for a namesake, to Cornelia Clark Fort, sacrificing her young life for her country, Nashville’s daughters have lived with bravery and determination. Time and circumstances have made the challenges of each one different, but they are united in their courage and love for their city and country. We owe them respect and honor and have the obligation to keep their memory alive. (1999)