Johnson City’s suffrage celebration to tell lost stories of local activists

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Stacey Ferren didn’t know much about her grandmother until a month ago.

Ferren was two years old when her grandmother, Eliza Shaut White, died. A month ago, she got a call from a local historian that her grandmother is rooted in Johnson City history.

Decades later, Ferren learned that her grandmother led a women’s suffrage parade in Johnson City more than a century ago.

Ferren’s grandmother, Eliza Shaut White, led Johnson City’s Woman Suffrage March more than a century ago.

Standing next to a portrait of her late grandmother on Tuesday, Ferren announced she would head an upcoming re-enactment of that parade later this year in a suffrage centennial celebration.

Ferren is part of a coalition established to celebrate Johnson City’s place in women’s rights history. Linda Good, leader of the coalition, said the goal of the movement is equal parts celebratory and educational.

“We have found some really wonderful, untold stories so far of things that happened right here in Johnson City, surrounding the suffrage movement,” Good said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The coalition is part of a nationwide movement to celebrate a century of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Tennessee’s part in the story is significant, Good said, because votes from the state turned the tide in the fight for women’s rights.

And Johnson City had its part to play too, which Good said will be a focus for the coalition this year.

From the national stage to Johnson City

More than 5,000 activists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1913 in the historic Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. An activist named Inez Millholland led the march on a white horse.

Activists in Johnson City replicated that parade about three years later, with Ferren’s grandmother leading 300 pro-suffrage advocates to a rally in Fountain Square.

For the celebration, Ferren will don period clothing and ride a horse in a re-enactment of Johnson City’s parade – just like her grandmother.

“I’m so excited about telling the history, the 1916 parade where she rode horseback,” she said.

Eliza Shaut White led Johnson City’s Woman Suffrage March in 1916.

The parade is slated to take to the streets in mid-October, but it’s just one tool the coalition is using to tell the stories of the women’s rights movement in Johnson City.

Members of the coalition say they plan to memorialize the event with a mural designed by southwest Virginia artist Ellen Elmes. Details on the placement of the piece are forthcoming, but coalition member Michelle Treece described the project as a sort of community coloring book.

“Her (Elmes’) ideal is to create this mural, give us the bold outlines and then everyone in our community join in in coloring and painting and making that fit,” Treece said.

To help pay for the mural, the coalition will host a fundraiser at The Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room, 216 E. Main St. on Feb. 29 from 7-9 p.m. Admission to the event is a $20 donation to the coalition. Entertainment for the evening includes live music, poetry readings and a silent auction.

The coalition aims to raise $25,000 for the mural, which has a tentative completion date for October.

Visit jctnsuffrage.org for event information.

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