Nashville Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood assists others in removing a tarp covering the new “Campaign for the Vote” marker honoring the women’s suffrage movement at Church Street Park. Photo by Payne Ray/Main Street Nashville

By Payne Ray 

NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville leaders gathered Thursday morning to unveil a historical marker at Church Street Park honoring Nashville’s history in the women’s suffrage movement.

The “Campaign for the Vote” marker, standing at the corner of the park next to Anne Dallas Dudley Boulevard, tells of the formation of the Nashville Equal Suffrage League in 1911 at the former Tulane Hotel and the major events following, including the hosting of the 1914 convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the Hermitage Hotel and the 1915 suffrage automobile parade that formed at the boulevard.

Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood, who attended and spoke in place of Mayor John Cooper, said it made her proud to see the new marker standing there.

The marker was intended to be revealed in August 2020, to mark the 100th year since the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, giving women the right to vote.

“The significance of Nashville in the ratification of the 19th Amendment is, of course, undeniable,” Haywood said. “Often referred to as the ‘Third House’ during the 1920 suffrage debate, the Hermitage Hotel found itself to be the epicenter of the debate.”

Haywood described the history of the site, just down the street from the marker. She told of the hotel’s history as a place where the powerful gathered and women lobbied them to vote in favor of women’s right to vote.

The hotel was named a National Historic Landmark in 2020, recognizing it as a key site in the women’s suffrage movement.

“I want you to know this is very important to me,” Haywood said. “I’m a lady of 70 — in May I turned 70 years old. The activism that took place right here made it possible for a Black young lady growing up right here in Nashville at the peak of racism and segregation to be the first to integrate Stratford High School at that time in 1963.”

Haywood also noted that it laid the groundwork for her to have a position not only as the first Black deputy mayor, but also as the first female deputy mayor of Nashville.

Before the ceremony, Tom Vickstrom, the director of finance for the Hermitage Hotel, presented a brief history lesson on the hotel and the local suffrage movement.

Vickstrom didn’t come forward to speak during the ceremony, but he was thanked for his lecture and for his support of the historical marker by Jessica Reeves, who oversees the historical markers program for the Metropolitan Historical Commission.

“Tom, I want to thank you for thanking me, whenever you spoke, for my help, but it was really you,” she said. “You are the one who did the research and came with the initial text, and I just had to finesse it into place, so it was all you, so thank you so much for that.”

After the speakers including Haywood, Reeves, Hermitage Hotel Managing Director Dee Patel, District 19 council member Freddie O’Connell and Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver concluded their remarks, they gathered next to the marker as the small crowd attending the ceremony moved to get a better view.

Applause broke out as they pulled away the tarp, revealing the text on both sides documenting the historic place and naming several women who contributed greatly to the suffrage movement.

The marker was presented to the city as a gift from the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission in Washington, D.C.

Reeves said the hope behind such markers is that, even as buildings fall or are torn down, such as the Tulane Hotel in 1956, people can always come to a marker like the “Campaign to Vote” one to learn and marvel that they are standing in a historic place.