CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee holds a special place in passing the 19th Amendment into law, extending voting rights to women. We were the final state needed for ratification, and our legislators came through with a two-vote victory margin on August 18, 1920, with the law becoming effective eight days later.
Clarksville will celebrate the amendment’s 100th anniversary on August 15, 2020, with the dedication of a monument on Public Square to make Clarksville a stop along the state’s Woman Suffrage Heritage Trail, stretching from Chattanooga to Memphis.
A group of 20 women community leaders began working on the project two years ago, under the leadership of the Clarksville Arts & Heritage Development Council (ADHC.) ADHC Executive Director Ellen Kanervo and local historian Brenda Harper co-chaired the group they named the Tennessee Triumph Steering Committee. They initially planned to honor a historic Montgomery County suffragist with a sculpture, but Harper’s research quickly revealed that many women worked together for the cause.
“We decided to ask a sculptor to create a woman every woman could identify with—whether she is black or white, old or young,” said Kanervo.
Nashville Sculptor Roy Butler, who specializes in highly detailed figurative sculpture in bronze from miniature to monumental, was commissioned by the committee to create a 1.25-times, life-sized statue to represent all Clarksville women who worked for suffrage and voted in that first election.
For authenticity, the artist used 1920 Clarksville artifacts from Clarksville’s Customs House Museum & Cultural Center in his design.
“Tennessee Triumph” has affectionately become known to the steering committee as “Tennie.” The statue represents Clarksville’s 27th piece of public art.
After two years of fundraising, planning, and advocating, “Tennessee Triumph” will be unveiled Saturday, August 15 on Public Square in downtown Clarksville. A suffrage march will take place at 5 p.m. from the Montgomery County Courthouse to the site at Public Square, followed by a dedication at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend and encouraged to wear yellow, purple, or white clothing – the colors associated with the suffragist movement – as well as masks.
“Clarksville suffragists were people like you and me who accomplished something really important by partnering with other women like you and me. And through their accumulated efforts, multiplied across the state, they brought about a wonderful and significant achievement. And I do believe with all my heart that women’s votes make this country stronger and healthier and a better place to live,” said Kanervo.
Steering Committee members Elizabeth Black, Khandra Smalley and Rosalind Kurita stand with the Tennessee Triumph maquette. (Story and Photo contributed by Visit Clarksville.)