Depicted in three stages, the design honors the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement with a focus on the Johnson City and Tennessee stories. It commemorates the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment through the celebration of a diverse and cohesive movement that continues to impact the social standing of women in our society today.
This mural centers around an artistic rendering of an historic march held in Johnson City on October 7, 1916. The design features portraits of many of Johnson City’s leading suffrage activists as well as national and local leaders in relevant movements; creating visual bridges as phases from the early Suffragist ancestors onward through other enfranchisement activists ultimately leading to a diverse grouping of current people who have benefited from their sacrifices. No currently living people are depicted.
The mural also recognizes the fact that the 19th amendment did not grant all women the right to vote as it depicts four stages of legislation that impacted enfranchisement during the 20th century. Seen as a “passing of the torch,” beginning with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, the mural illustrates the Snyder Act of 1924, which gave citizenship to First Nations people; the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, which allowed people of Asian descent to immigrate and become citizens; and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which made voting restrictions to African American voters illegal.
The Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 was conceptualized over a cup of tea. Similarly, the Centennial Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Johnson City was first discussed over lunch by Johnson City resident, Linda Good and City Mayor, Jenny Brock. At that meeting, Linda and Jenny discussed the importance of creating awareness and celebrating the importance of the 19th Amendment passage and Tennessee’s role as the 36th and necessary final state to ratify. At that time they did not realize that Johnson City was a focal point of suffrage activities leading up to that ratification. After over fifteen months of planning, fund raising, and traversing many road bumps (including a pandemic) in their journey, the Centennial Suffrage Celebration Coalition of Johnson City presented the “Passing the Torch” mural to Mayor Brock and the community on November 1, 2020.
Passion and partnerships were integral to the completion of Coalition efforts. Rebecca Proffitt, archivist at the ETSU Reece Museum, identified a dedicated historian in Tom Roberts, and sought out the perfect mural artist match in Ellen Elmes. A history enthusiast as well as an artist, Ellen had just begun her research into the Suffrage Movement at Seneca Falls when contacted by Rebecca and Tom.
The process of creating the mural involved painting the imagery both on and off the wall. Ellen Elmes and her husband Don prepared and painted fabric panels in Ellen’s home studio in southwest Virginia during April – July 2020. She created all the imagery on 16 separate fabric panels; then, from late August to mid-September 2020, Ellen and Don installed the panels with a thick acrylic gel that affixes the panels, edge to edge, permanently to the wall at 398 Ashe Street. Next, by painting directly on the brick, they added the “bridge” imagery of the hands passing the torch between women through the ages. The final additions included the black border to all the outside edges, as well as the lower middle border which gives credit to the major funders of the mural project.
For more on artist Ellen Elmes visit her at: https://www.ellenelmes.com/
Go here to view a beautiful watercolor painting "Darkness into The Light", which Ellen graciously allowed us to share, along with her thoughts behind the creative inspiration for the artwork.
If you have additional information concerning the history of the Movement in Johnson City, please contact Johnson City Communications and Marketing office at the following link: