Margaret Behm and Jeanie Nelson
The 19th Amendment 100 Years Later
Margaret Behm and Jeanie Nelson, along with Juli Mosley, have spearheaded a spectacular new Votes for Women exhibit at the Nashville Public Library, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The exhibit is only one of a few permanent exhibits telling the story of Suffragettes. Tennessee was the last state to ratify the amendment that gave women the vote, and the struggle in Nashville was epic. A real War of the Roses.
What should we know about Margaret Behm and Jeanie Nelson?
Margaret and Jeanie have been role models for women’s equality in Tennessee. They are both celebrated lawyers, starting their careers when women were rare in law firms.
Behm’s advocacy has been lauded locally and nationally, recognizing her achievements in and service to the legal profession, especially in the areas of promoting women. She received the prestigious Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, given nationally to only five lawyers a year by the American Bar Association. Behm is a partner at the law firm of Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella.
Nelson has been in private practice, government service and the political arena for many years, championing causes of women and the environment, locally and nationally. For 16 years she headed The Land Trust of Tennessee, protecting more than 130,000 acres of Tennessee land.
Oh, and one more fact. They have walked together weekly for the past twenty years, giving them time to dream of projects like Votes for Women.
Tell us about the Votes for Women exhibit at the Nashville Public Library?
Votes for Women is a new, permanent exhibit at the Main Library in downtown Nashville. The space, dedicated to showcasing Nashville’s role in the 19th Amendment, will also serve to jump start community conversations about the issues surrounding women and girls, power and democracy today.
The new exhibit is one of the only permanent exhibits in the country that tells the story of the 70 years of suffragette activism. The Nashville Public Library seemed the perfect home for the exhibit because of its location near the Tennessee Capitol and the Hermitage Hotel where the last act of the drama played out (listen to our guests talk about this great story!). Also, within the library, the exhibit is in good company. An important Civil Rights exhibit commemorating the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins is located next to the Votes for Women exhibit.
What makes the exhibit important?
Behm and Nelson were afraid the stories of this struggle would be lost if they were not gathered now. History books don’t tell the story of the 70-year fight, or the sexist, racial or cultural implications of the anti-suffragette sentiment. Women had to convince men to give their consent for 27 million women to vote. The issues that surrounded women’s vote were numerous. The opposition did not want to give African American women the vote. They also feared the unpredictability of the women’s vote, possibly unsettling the status quo. Religious forces preached against women voting. Corporate interests such as railroads, liquor lobbies and manufacturers had major concerns about women’s attitudes towards child labor and prolonging Prohibition.
Does the women’s perseverance for equality have relevance for today?
Women are still struggling for equality – in their professions, in government and in board rooms. The still seek equal pay and access to healthcare. The lessons and strategies applied to the women’s movement certainly can be utilized by the disenfranchised today.
What happens on August 18, the virtual opening of the exhibit?
On Tuesday, August 18 at 11:30 a.m. CST, the library will host a virtual opening of Votes for Women. Viewers can watch the event on the library’s YouTube channel at https://bit.ly/votesforwomenopening. Additionally, the online celebration will feature community leaders, elected officials, 2020 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate Alora Young and special guest Rosanne Cash. Cash has a long history of using her voice to advocate for women and girls everywhere. Cash narrated the PBS documentary “By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South.”
Tell us about the bell ringing on August 18?
The virtual opening will culminate at noon, when bells across the city will ring out in celebration. Churches, universities and public buildings all through the city will help celebrate this momentous occasion as 100 peels of bells ring out. This bell-ringing rights a wrong that occurred 100 years ago when Nashville remained quiet after the winning vote, while cities all across the country rang bells in celebration.