Women’s suffrage exhibit on display at Jonesborough Visitor’s Center

Less than a week after the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Jonesborough Visitor‘s Center is hosting a traveling exhibition, “Make Our Voices Heard: Tennessee Women’s Fight for the Vote,” exploring the history of women’s suffrage in Tennessee, the state’s ratification vote and the years that followed.

“It’s here for people to come and enjoy and it’s really a great snapshot,” said Anne Mason, executive director of the Heritage Alliance in Jonesborough, “it’s got a brief history of the whole movement, but then specifically why Tennessee was so important because it was that 36th state needed to ratify the amendment.”

The exhibit has multiple panels offering a “touch-free experience” of archival images, stories and introductions of those who fought for women’s right to vote.

The stories, according to a press release from the Heritage Alliance, will detail the early struggles with racial and gender discrimination, and the organization of women’s associations to encourage political engagement. The exhibit will also highlight Febb Burn, whose letter to her son, Harry T. Burn, led to him casting the deciding vote for the ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee.

In the press release, Chuck Sherill, the State Librarian and Archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, said the passage of the amendment “not only solidified women’s right to vote but propelled women across the country to opportunities and futures they never thought possible,“ and that the “hope of the committee is the centennial celebration will do the same.”

Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, said the goal is to “honor those individuals who played key roles in the journey to gain voting rights for women.”

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share these voices across the state,” Howell said in the release.

Mason said it was important to show that, in the history of the nation, 100 years was not that long ago and that people has to “fight for a long time to get this right.”

“I think now, because we’re just so used to everybody — although, clearly, there are still hurdles in some areas — most of us are used to just being able to go and vote, and we don’t realize it wasn’t always that way,” Mason said. “A lot of people had to fight for a long time to get this right, and it reinforces that — ‘hey, this is so easy for you to do today so go do it because people used to be arrested for it, or denied or threatened for it.’”

Mason said the exhibit was supposed to go on display earlier in the year, but the pandemic threw a wrench in those plans.

After arriving last week, the exhibit is now on display in the Jonesborough and Washington County History Museum inside the Visitor’s Center and will remain there through September at least. It was organized by the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee State Museum with funding from the Official Committee of the State of Tennessee Woman Suffrage Centennial, and in part from a grant from Humanities Tennessee. The Heritage Alliance is also working on a Washington County-specific companion exhibit.

“It’s perfect for smaller museums like us to be able to tell this big story,” Mason added.