Remembering Nashville’s Daughters

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.

Elizabeth Eakin (Tennessee Portrait Project)

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.

Anne Dallas Dudley, 1908 (Tennessee Portrait Project)

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)

Memories of Cornelia Fort

A Reminiscence by Peggy Dickinson Fleming.

In the short lifespan of Cornelia Fort, this remarkable Nashvillian accomplished great things. She was a premier aviatrix and was privileged to play an important role in history. The first female flight instructor in Nashville, she was sent to Hawaii to teach military personnel to fly. On December 7, 1941, Fort was flying with a student pilot when their aircraft nearly collided with an invading Japanese plane. From the air she saw the smoke from the Pearl Harbor bombing.

In the fall of 1942 Cornelia Fort was selected as one of the first members of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFs). She flew a number of missions in the service of her country before she was killed in March 1943 in a flying accident in Texas.

High school photograph of Cornelia Fort used with permission of the author.

I went to high school with Cornelia at Ward-Belmont in Nashville. She was an outstanding student, even then having the “look of eagles.” As I remember, Cornelia was responsible for the early downfall of my handwriting. Miss Major, our domineering Latin teacher, demanded rather long reports and test responses. Cornelia would sail through the reports and tests with her huge, looping handwriting, covering many pages with essays and answers. This greatly impressed Miss Major. I would be crawling along with my cramped version of handwriting, perhaps getting the job done, but not using up much test paper. Cornelia looked over my work with disgust and advised me to open up and stretch my efforts! This strategy produced the desired effect of creating large bunches of work, but, as you can imagine, it did nothing constructive for my handwriting. It is still rather illegible to this day.

Postcard photo of Ward-Belmont School from NHN collection.

Cornelia lived near Shelby Park in East Nashville. She was driven to and from school by a very amiable black employee by the name of Eperson. I loved being invited to accompany her, as we traveled in style in a large black town car.

Cornelia’s house was a lovely white antebellum home, set far from the road in a grove of walnut trees. Meals there were quite impressive, eaten under the watchful eye of Eperson, who saw to it that the young Forts minded their manners. You can imagine that I ate Very Carefully.

Cornelia had three older brothers who completely awed me. They were Rufus Fort Jr., Dudley, and Garth. Rufus and Dudley became well-known Nashville businessmen, while Garth followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an MD. Garth married one of our neighbors here in Columbia, a woman with whom my husband Swope had grown up. Of course, this was many years after Cornelia’s tragic death.

I did not see Cornelia, or “Corns,” as I was wont to call her, after our graduation from high school; however, I have always valued the memories of our friendship. 

A Chronology of Nashville Airports

by Georgiana T. McConnell.

Nashville’s first airfield was a two-thousand-foot strip on the E.L. Hampton farm, now along Hampton Avenue between Golf Club Lane and Woodmont Boulevard. It was used by transients and locals between 1917 and 1921.

Blackwood Field was opened in 1921 to house the newly designated 105th Observation Squadron Air Guard unit. It was on land adjacent to The Hermitage property on Shute Lane. H.O. Blackwood donated money to erect a hangar, thus the name.

When air mail was becoming important, an airport was needed closer to town, so land was purchased in West Nashville. A field at the current location of McCabe Golf Course began operation in 1927. It was named McConnell Field in honor of Brower McConnell who had been killed in Air Guard training that year. It was Nashville’s first municipal airport. McConnell Field soon became too small for the Guard and airline growth, but it stayed in operation until 1937.

Although located in Murfreesboro, the next designated Nashville airport was Sky Harbor which opened in 1929. It was located between the old Nashville Road and the railroad and was used until Berry Field opened in 1937.

Nashville’s New Municipal Airport (postcard from NHN collection)

Berry Field was built at its present location along Murfreesboro Road—although it is now greatly enlarged. It was a WPA project and was named in honor of Col. Harry S. Berry, State Administrator of the WPA. Called the Nashville International Airport since 1988, it continues to serve the growing aviation public, though mostly for corporate and airline flying.

Gillespie Airport, owned and operated by Jim Gillespie, opened in 1941. It was located at the end of 9th Avenue North on the Cumberland River (on land now part of Metro Center). It served private flying. Before it closed it was bought by the city and called Cumberland Field.

Cornelia Fort Airpark, named for a daughter of Nashville who lost her life while serving in the WAFS, opened in 1943. It is located near the old Fort farm along the Cumberland River in East Nashville.

In 1970 the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority acquired the airport at the old Sewart Air Force Base in Smyrna. MNAA relinquished the airport to the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority in 1991 but retains liens related to environmental issues. The Smyrna Airport serves corporate and private flying.

The John C. Tune Airport, named for a founding member of MNAA and located in the Cockrill Bend area near the prison, opened in 1986. It is owned by the Metro Airport Authority and serves corporate and private flying. (2000)