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Washington marchers walking in the footsteps of five women in Nashville

John Thompson • Updated Jan 22, 2017 at 7:42 PM

ELIZABETHTON — While the Women’s March on Washington drew worldwide attention Saturday,  Elizabethton clergyman Timothy Holder reflected on a new monument in Centennial Park in Nashville that recalls another march 100 years ago; one that still has worldwide impact.

The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument is a statue of five women marching together and holding signs that demand the right to vote for women. The monument celebrates the fact that in 1920 Tennessee became the 36th — and last state needed — to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, by which women gained the right to vote.

The monument depicts five women who were instrumental in the successful drive in Nashville. The five are: Anne Dallas Dudley of Nashville; Frankie Pierce of Nashville; Carrie Chapman Catt, a national suffrage leader who was in Tennessee for the climax of her struggle; Sue Shelton White of Jackson; and Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga. The monument was dedicated  Aug. 26.

On Saturday, Holder, pastor of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Elizabethton, reflected on his first visit to the monument on Dec. 28.

“As I looked at these great Tennessee women carrying the movement to passage for all women, I thought that beautiful morning at Centennial Park about how proud I was to be the grandson of a granddaughter of a grandmother and great aunts who kept their homes and children safe from Rebel invasions into Turkeytown … these same women losing husbands — my ancestors — who died in Rebel prisons never to return home,” he said. “These courageous women went on bravely with great faith and perseverance. Just as today as brave women march nationwide. As we sing in Christian tradition, ‘There's power in the blood!’ "

Holder also had a more personal reason for visiting the new monument.

At its base are the images of three other Tennessee women who were able to achieve major political accomplishments because of the struggle of the five marching women. The three are Lois DeBerry, Jane Eskind and Beth Harwell. 

Eskind is a heroine for Holder. She was the first woman in Tennessee history to win a statewide election when she won a seat on the Tennessee Public Service Commission in 1980. As a young man, Holden worked on her staff. She did not live to see the Aug. 26 unveiling of the monument. She died Aug. 4.

On his December visit, he was accompanied by Richard Eskind, Jane’s husband for 62 years.

Holder’s thoughts on Saturday also broadened to think of many of the struggling women he has encountered in his work at St. Thomas, which has services in both English and Spanish.

He spoke of his admiration  “for the many women from Mexico and Guatemala working and raising families here in Elizabethton and Carter County and Northeast Tennessee. Facing so many obstacles day-to-day, more frequently degraded and not welcomed as human beings, working for maybe $600 or $700 a month and then sending half back home to care for mothers and children left behind. My heart praises God when I meet a woman making it all work, raising children, working hard, building a new country and hope for America, marching forward for the love of freedom, justice, and opportunity in America. This is America!”

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