As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, our Curator, Jesse Williams, has created a special Suffrage exhibit in the Mansion that will be on display during August. Suffrage supporters were working for the American woman’s right to vote in the mid-19th century. The amendment was first introduced in 1878 and passed by the U.S. Congress in 1919. It was adopted on August 18, 1920 when Tennessee, by one vote, became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Annie Davis Richardson was born into one of Nashville’s most prominent families in 1877. Her father was a prominent businessman and owned Lockeland Spring Water Company. Annie quickly became friends with William Harding Jackson, the only son of Belle Meade’s owner, General William Hicks Jackson. A romance followed, and by the fall of 1897, Nashville was buzzing with the news of a marriage between the Richardson and Jackson families. Because of the recognition of both families, the wedding was one of the most anticipated events of the 1897 social season. Nashvillians lined the streets to watch the procession arriving and departing from McKendree Methodist Church. Extra police had to be called in to control the crowds and newspaper reporters covered the wedding in great detail. The article that ran in The Tennessean the day after the wedding states, “Few young couples can begin life with such luxurious surroundings and with such prospects of a bright and happy future as is the good fortune of the new Mr. and Mrs. Jackson.”
Little did they know that the world would change in just a few years and the Thoroughbred industry would start to falter. In a changing economy and in the face of an embezzlement scandal with his son-in-law, General William Hicks Jackson’s health began to quickly fail, and he passed away on March 30, 1903, at the age of 67. Annie, who was 26, and her 29-year-old husband were suddenly thrust into the enormous task of trying to save Belle Meade. Seeking new investors for the business, William traveled north, where he caught typhoid fever. Three months after his father died, William also passed away. Annie’s young two-year-old son was the heir to his family’s well-known estate. However, the options for success were limited, given the social and economic climate of the early 20th century. Three years later, in 1906, the business assets were liquidated and the property sold. Annie moved with her young son to New York and continued her life there, becoming very involved in New England’s high society and also successfully managing her father’s business.
A strong and capable woman, who nevertheless benefited from wealth and privilege, Annie’s story gives us a unique glimpse into the experiences of a woman living in the early 20th century. As Americans wrestled with the idea of women’s suffrage, Annie herself grappled with whether or not to support the movement. The excerpt below, printed in The Tennessean in 1917, provides us with a rare opportunity to hear, in her own words, how Annie processed her feelings on the subject of women’s right to vote.
(Below is an excerpt from the article, “What Suffragists Are Doing in the Business World”, The Tennessean, August 25, 1917)
“I have not yet committed myself fully to the cause of Suffrage. But it is a big question that confronts you everywhere you go. And I confess I am interested to the point that I intend to study and inform myself,”said Mrs. William Harding Jackson when asked were it true that she had decided to give her moral support and influence to the struggle for votes for women.
During her husband’s life Mrs. Jackson presided with exquisite grace and dignity at Belle Meade and dispensed a characteristic and distinctive hospitality in keeping with the famous old home. And since she has spent much time in Washington, Boston, New York, Bar Harbor, and Narragansett Pier, where the question of suffrage literally forced itself upon her attention. Then she became interested in the conditions and needs of women and girls in the mills, factories and shirtwaist plants, and from being interested she became, finally, sympathetic and compassionate, “Until” said Mrs. Jackson, “I came to see and realize and know that for the working woman, at least, the vote is a vital necessity.”
“Can’t you broaden your sympathy a bit more to include all women in that need?” she was asked.
“No” was the frank rejoinder. “I am not yet convinced for the need of all women as a vital factor in world politics.”
Then thoughtfully, Mrs. Jackson continued: “But, I will admit this much: Since I returned home and have become an active business woman, I find that the question of the vote and its value to all women are becoming more interesting, more personal, and more insistent. For if I have to pay taxes on my property, my plant, my business, then why shouldn’t I have the right to protect them with my vote, as did my father or brother?”
Mrs. Jackson is established in her ancestral home, Lockeland, and has taken over the management and distribution of the Lockeland Spring Water, and the lucrative business, which will doubtless grow even richer under her management.