The Suffrage Coalition of Knoxville, Tennessee, has organized several parades to honor the history of women’s right to vote. The organization is headed by Wanda Sobieski, and is keeping that history alive. The parades are mainly held in downtown Knoxville. Women in white dresses with sashes wear hats and hold signs, and even carry life size cut-outs of famous women suffragists. The organization hopes to establish a permanent museum to house artifacts and tell the story of women’s struggle to get the vote, especially since Tennessee was known as the “Perfect 36” state to ratify the 19th Amendment. This year, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Knoxville will be on March 12, 2022 at 1:00 p.m., and the Suffrage Coalition will be marching and carrying on the tradition. A larger celebratory suffrage parade will take place May 7, 2022. For more information, visit suffragecoalition.org.
Local artist Mary Ruden is an active member of the Suffrage Coalition and has illustrated seven Tennessee women important to the cause from the late 1800s to 1920. Febb Burn is among the seven women the artist illustrated and turned into life sized cut-outs that are used in the parades. Febb Burn, from Niota, Tennessee, wrote a letter to her son, legislator Harry T. Burn, reminding him to do the right thing. He voted for the amendment which subsequently marked the ratification in 1920. The Suffrage Coalition of Knoxville will commemorate Febb Burn with a banquet/ fundraiser on May 24, 2022. Mary Ruden says of the cut-outs in the parade:
In the parade, the carrying of the life size ladies brings them into our present-day world. It is like we are marching alongside of them. The crowd enjoys seeing us and especially enjoys seeing them. — Mary Ruden
They were drawn from historic photos and required careful study of the clothing at the time. The artist also created a bronze bust of famous Knoxville women’s suffragist, Lizzie Crozier French, that depicts her circa 1869. Lizzie was state chair of the National Woman’s Party. She co-founded educational institutions for women among many other endeavors. She is buried at the historic Old Gray Cemetery where a new bronze marker was placed for her in 2021. The bust was included in the Centennial exhibit in 2020 at the East Tennessee History Center featuring women’s right to vote.
Ruden has also created many suffrage-themed quilts that have been featured in traveling displays at museums and galleries. They include slogans by Susan B. Anthony such as, “Independence is happiness,” and by Alice Paul’s “there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”
Click the image below for a YouTube video about the quilts:
For more information, visit maryruden.com.
**Images in the body of this article are courtesy of Mary Ruden
**Featured image of a Suffrage Parade in New York — May 4th, 1912