Celebrating a Tennessee Triumph
On a July afternoon in 1914, more than 75 people crowded into a house on Madison Street for a meeting of the newly established Clarksville Equal Suffrage League. The women who joined the league that afternoon spent the next six years facing ridicule and threats of violence in the pursuit of their goal –earning women the right to vote. In that time, they helped Tennessee become the 36th state to ratify the amendment, providing suffragists with the threefourths majority needed to amend the constitution.
On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution. Next August marks the 100th anniversary of that historic event, and the upcoming centennial caused several women within the Austin Peay State University community to look at commemorating the event. Ellen Kanervo, retired APSU professor and director of the Arts and Heritage Development Council, decided her hometown needed to be part of the Women’s Suffrage Heritage Trail through Tennessee, which stops at monuments in Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Jackson.
“I thought, well if they’re on the heritage trail,Montgomery County needs to be on the heritage trail,” she said. “We need to have a statue.”
Kanervo and Brenda Harper, a member of Clarksville’s 2020 Vision Committee for the anniversary, put together a group of 20 women leaders, and the group began soliciting artists for the project. The committee ultimately picked Phoenix and Nashville-based artist Roy Butler’s design, featuring a woman casting her first vote. The group nicknamed the statue Tennessee Triumph.
“Roy talked with us and made it unique to Clarksville,”Kanervo said. “Her hat is based on a hat worn by Pearl Darnell Perkins, who was a Clarksville suffragist. The dress was from an ad in the 1920s The Leaf-Chronicle.The purse was carried by a bride in Clarksville in 1920,and the boots were from the museum collection.”
The group is currently soliciting funds to pay for the7-foot-tall statue, which will be placed at the top of Public Square. Once the project is complete, Kanervo hopes all women will be able to look at Tennessee Triumph and see themselves in the statue.
“This is every woman,” she said. “We asked Roy to please make it so anyone can see themselves in this monument, regardless of age or race. If you look at her, I think she manages to get that. I really like it.”