Women to the Rescue

by Carol Kaplan.

At the end of the 19th century City Cemetery was in crisis. Once a burial place for all Nashvillians, it had been supplanted by the newer and more beautiful Mt. Olivet, Mt. Ararat, and Calvary cemeteries. The Union Civil War dead had been transported to National; the Confederates, to Mt. Olivet. Neglected and ignored, City was described by the Banner on June 21, 1868, as a ruin: “robbery, murder and lust have held their horrid orgies in it and even now nightly desecrated by being the rendezvous of lascivious love.” No wonder the cemetery was promptly declared a “public nuisance” and burials were suspended the following month. A plan quickly came together within city government to remove all the graves and make the land a public park.

Sunset at Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Rebecca Sowell)

“Not so fast! Absolutely not!” Nashville’s women spoke out forcefully against such an idea. This was “sacred ground and should never be called a park,” protested Felicia Steger, a granddaughter of Felix Grundy. Women had found a new freedom of expression with the advent of the 20th century. In 1897 their Woman’s Building at the Tennessee Centennial had been a triumph. Now they found that, although not yet allowed to vote, they could nonetheless organize and engage in “civic housekeeping” with positive results. “We shall never have clean cities until the women undertake the job” was the credo of these busy ladies. Their noble efforts notwithstanding, a Banner reporter of 1900 expressed indignation that “women were boldly wearing ankle-length skirts on clear days because they were helpful in getting on and off streetcars.”

·         Woman’s building at Tennessee Centennial Exposition, 1897 (Image #27163; Calvert Brothers Photography Studio; courtesy of Tennessee State Library & Archives)

Saving and caring for City Cemetery became the focus of several groups. In 1903 the Tennessee Women’s Historical Association was organized, its specific purpose to preserve the cemetery. Sumner A. Cunningham, editor of the Confederate Veteran, claimed credit for suggesting its formation. He was the only male member of an industrious group that included Louise Lindsley and Carnegie librarian Mary Hannah Johnson. Other civic and patriotic organizations were asked to join them “to assist in improving and preserving the old city cemetery, to dispel the spirit of vandalism and promote civic pride. The Ladies’ Hermitage Association, DAR, UDC, and Colonial Dames all cooperated under this umbrella. One of their successful projects was the construction of a Memorial Gate at the 5th Avenue entrance. Dedicated in 1909, the gate exists only in pictures now, having been destroyed in an automobile accident during the 1930s. Wishing to do their part, Cumberland Chapter, DAR, erected a sundial to mark the path leading to the James Robertson family plot.

Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Rebecca Sowell)

The South Nashville Federation of Women was another group that worked to care for the City Cemetery grounds. The guidebook All About Nashville reported in 1912 that “with the cooperation of 400 members, they have cleared away the rubbish, pruned trees, graveled the walks, and planted a line of memorial elms and lastly, are in the process of erecting a handsome memorial gateway to the heroes of another day.” These gateposts, on 4th Avenue, still stand. May Winston Caldwell, whose parents and siblings are buried at City, remembered the pre-Civil War days when her mother and Peter, the gardener, came to care for the family plot. Now May, as a member of the South Nashville Women, was proudly carrying on that tradition.

Sign at City Cemetery entrance gate (NHN collection)

These hard-working women began a program of stewardship and restoration that has resumed in recent years after a period of neglect. Today the Nashville City Cemetery Association (composed of both men and women!) is ten* years old, making it the longest-lived and most professional volunteer organization ever to protect and renovate the grounds and markers: an endowment established at the Community Foundation will support the continuing restoration of the City Cemetery in the years to come. Thanks to the $3 million allocated by the Metro Council, and with the cooperation of the Metro Historical Commission and such citizen organizations as Master Gardeners of Davidson County, the cemetery is once again prepared to maintain its status as a historically valuable resting place of our pioneer heritage.        (2008)

A volunteer from the Master Gardeners of Davidson County works in one of the family plots (NHN photo)

Previously published in Monuments and Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

* Note: This article was written in 2008. The NCCA began its work in 1998. By this time (late 2021) the organization is more than 23 years old.

Louise Grundy Lindsley, 1858-1944

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Louise Grundy Lindsley was born March 11, 1858, in Nashville, Tennessee.1 She was the eldest child of Dr. John Berrien Lindsley (1822-1897) and Sarah “Sallie” McGavock Lindsley (1830-1903), and the great-granddaughter of U. S. Senator and jurist Felix Grundy (1777-1840).2  Miss Lindsley, a debutante (1898)3 and a college graduate,4 remained unmarried, devoting her life to worthy causes. She was active in Nashville chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of 1812, and the Centennial Club.5 When the Tennessee Historical Society opened its membership to women in 1915, she was one of its first female members.6

Postcard photo of The Hermitage from NHN collection

            Louise Lindsley was one of five women who signed the charter of incorporation of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA), later serving as director and regent for many years.7 In 1889 the LHA gained possession of the 25 acres that included the house and tomb.8  After the Confederate Soldiers’ Home closed in the 1930s, the State awarded the hard-working Association the remaining Hermitage land.9 A 1910 newspaper reporter observed Regent10 Louise Lindsley tending to the Hermitage hydrangeas “planted as tiny shrubs by her mother, the late Mrs. Berrien Lindsley, during her term of Regency.”11

            In 1912 Louise Lindsley described the work of the LHA to the Southern Commercial Congress,12 a group of representatives from the Southern states who worked to promote regional economic growth.  At the request of the group’s president, Miss Lindsley organized the Tennessee Women’s Auxiliary to the Congress, soon becoming the Auxiliary’s national president.13  The group took a great interest in the economic possibilities of the new Panama Canal, and Lindsley herself traveled to Panama.14 The Auxiliary also worked to bring together women – particularly rural women – in an effort to encourage them to become involved in such local issues as roads, community health, and vocational education.15

John Berrien Lindsley’s handwritten will, dated July 19, 1892, left his interest in the Nashville Medical College to his daughters Louise G. and Annie D. Lindsley.16 When Sallie Lindsley died in 1898, she left a hand-written deed of gift, giving all her “furniture silver and pictures and other household effects” to Louise, “all of my other children being married and provided for.”17 After Annie’s marriage failed, she, her daughter Margaret, and Louise shared a residence for the remainder of their lives. In February 1922, although Annie was still living, Louise petitioned to adopt Margaret so her niece would become her legal heir.18 

Louise Lindsley was an active participant in the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association for many years.19 When World War I broke out, she was appointed to chair the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense.20 She became a Southern representative to the National Bureau of Speakers and was involved locally in efforts to encourage housewives to support the war effort through resourcefulness and efficiency.21

            Louise G. Lindsley’s will, dated December 11, 1939, left half her estate to her niece, Margaret Lindsley Warden, and half to her sister Annie.22 Louise died of colon cancer on July 18, 1944, at the age of 86.23 (2014)


1    Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 5, October 6, 1856 – January 1, 1866. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 23. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

2   Lindly, John M. The History of the Lindley-Lindsley-Linsley Families in America, 1639-1924, Vol. II.  Winfield, Iowa: Self-published, 1924, 19.

3   Nashville American, October 27, 1898, 3.

4  Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries: The Grundy Women and the Beginnings of Women’s Volunteer Associations in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol.LIV, No. 1, Spring 1995, 47.

5  Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Louise Grundy Lindsley,” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Online edition. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002-2014.

6   Toplovich, Ann. “The Tennessee Historical Society at 150: Tennessee History ‘Just and True.’” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Fall 1999, Vol. LVIII, Number 3, 205.

7  Dorris, Mary C. Currey. Preservation of the Hermitage, 1889-1915: Annals, History, and Stories. Smith & Lamar, 1915, 97.

8   Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 46.

9    “Preservation,” The Hermitage website, accessed June 28, 2014.   http://www.thehermitage.com/mansion-grounds/mansion/preservation

10   Dorris, 97.

11   Nashville American, August 7, 1910, 14.

12   Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 47-48.

13   Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 48.

14  “Miss Lindsley’s Visit to Panama,” Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, November 21, 1913, p. 4.

15   Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 49.

16   Handwritten will of John Berrien Lindsley, witnessed by Leon Trousdale Jr. and Jos. B. Babb. (original) July 19, 1893.  Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1812-1940] – 1953, Box 2, Folder 47, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

17   Handwritten Deed of Gift from Sallie McGavock Lindsley (original), July 5, 1898. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1812-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 20, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

18    Court Records-Petition for Adoption, February 1922.  Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1812-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 19, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

19    The Tennessean, August 30, 1914.

20   “Louise Grundy Lindsley,” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture.

21   “Louise Grundy Lindsley,” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture.

22   Hand-written will of Louise G. Lindsley, December 11, 1939.  Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1812-1940] – 1953, Box 2, Folder 48, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

23   Death certificate: Lindsley, Louise G. Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958. Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives.


Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries: The Grundy Women and the Beginnings of Women’s Volunteer Associations in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol.LIV, No. 1, Spring 1995, 40-53.

Dorris, Mary C. Currey. Preservation of the Hermitage, 1889-1915: Annals, History, and Stories. Nashville: Smith & Lamar, 1915.