We Have a Vision: Nashville Women from the Centennial to Suffrage
Located in the West Gallery of the Parthenon from July 17, 2020 until January 13, 2021
In partnership with the Parthenon, Centennial Park Conservancy will present a new exhibition, We Have a Vision: Nashville Women from the Centennial to Suffrage. Located in the West Gallery, the exhibit will use garments that belonged to Kate Kirkman from the 1890s and the 1910s to anchor an examination of her role and that of the Woman’s Department at the Exposition in fostering a conversation about women’s suffrage.
Kate Thompson Kirkman, Chair of the Woman’s Department at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, led a committee of socially prominent and active women from across the state in organizing a building and contents that showcased the accomplishments of Tennessee women. The Woman’s Department hired a woman architect, Sara Ward Conley, and invited speakers of national prominence to come to the Exposition to discuss social and political issues that were in the forefront of nationwide debates. Among those speakers was Susan B. Anthony, and her speech at the Exposition concerned the right of women to vote. Kirkman and her committee were not always in agreement with the positions of the speakers they invited, but they made a space for the discussions to take place.
With the garments as a material lens to demonstrate that change is enacted by real people, Kate Kirkman’s Legacy: The Woman’s Building and the Road to Equal Suffrage exhibition will also connect Susan B Anthony’s speech at the Centennial Exposition Woman’s Building with the May Day marches for women’s right to vote that led from the Capital to the Parthenon (1914 - 1920) and with the ratification of the 19th amendment. To accomplish these examinations, the Parthenon has recruited Dr. Carole Bucy, the Davidson County Historian and Professor of History at Volunteer State Community College. Bucy will interpret the exhibition materials and ensure the story in the exhibition is accurate, equitable, and engaging.
The exhibit will continue the critical examination of the suffrage movement, extending it to the Centennial Exhibition and the Women’s Building. This critique will include the degree to which women of color were involved in the Centennial Exposition and in the fight for equal suffrage. The opening session of the National Association of Colored Women’s annual conference was held at the Centennial Exposition, and Kate Kirkman was invited to speak to the group. While Kirkman spoke to the NACW, the Woman’s Department committee did not invite the group to hold their convention at the Woman’s Building; it was held at Howard Congregational Church on what is now Twelfth Avenue North. The exhibit, then, will carefully address these important events from multiple angles.