Inside the Ryman Auditorium

photo by: Ryman Auditorium

October 7, 2015

Four Historic Spots That Showcase Nashville's Powerful Women

  • By: Kristi Eaton

Nashville may be known today for country music, health care, and a budding food scene, but it also played a significant role in the women’s rights movement.

In August 1920, Tennessee became the final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in America. As the capital of Tennessee, Nashville played a big role in that historical moment and its ties to women’s rights are seen throughout the city.

Here are some of the best spots where you can learn and experience the history-making role of women in Nashville.

Hermitage Hotel

photo by: Dana Lane, Flickr

Entrance to the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville.

The Hermitage Hotel -- 231 Sixth Avenue North

This Beaux Arts-style hotel that first opened in 1910 was the go-to spot for politicians who wined and dined at the hotel’s restaurant. The Hermitage Hotel was the national headquarters for both the pro- and anti-suffrage movements. Lobbyists, lawmakers, and journalists were a common sight at the luxury hotel as legislators cast their vote to ultimately ratify the 19th Amendment. In 1995, the hotel held a 75th anniversary marking the passage of women’s suffrage.

Though full of history, the hotel closed in 1977, but local preservationists helped save it and it reopened. It has changed owners and names several times over the years, but still showcases its grand and historical status in Nashville. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Among its famous guests were President John F. Kennedy, President Woodrow Wilson, Gene Autry, and Al Capone.

Ryman Auditorium Exterior

photo by: Ryman Auditorium

The west facade of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Ryman Auditorium -- 116 Fifth Avenue North

The Ryman Auditorium, which has hosted such varied acts as Hank Williams and Ed Sheeran, may be named for the Nashville businessman who founded it, but it was Lula C. Naff who helped turn it into an attraction drawing big names and crowds that continues to this day.

One of the few businesswomen of the era, she managed the Ryman and helped turn it into a premier venue for religious revivals, jazz recitals, operas, musicals, and more. Under her guidance, the venue was able to attract entertainers such as Katharine Hepburn and Harry Houdini.

Naff is also credited with bringing the Grand Ole Opry to the Ryman. She signed the contract in 1943 to bring the popular live radio show to the venue every Saturday night. It was a relationship that would last for more than three decades.

Naff was the general manager of the Ryman until 1955. In 2015, Café Lula was opened at the historic venue to honor the pioneering businesswoman.

RCA Studio B Interior

photo by: RCA Studio B

Several well-known women country artists have recorded here at RCA Studio B.

RCA Studio B -- 1611 Roy Acuff Pl.

Tours depart from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, RCA’s Studio B was built in the 1850s and became famous for its connection to the “Nashville sound,” a genre of country music popularized around that time. Several well-known women country artists have recorded at the studio, including Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, and Dottie West. The Country Music Hall of Fame offers daily tours of the historic recording studio. (Ed. note: Learn more about Music Row, one of our National Treasures.)

Nelson's Green Briar Distillery

photo by: Tamera Clark, Flickr

Inside Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, which was run by Louisa Nelson after her husband passed away in 1891.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery -- 1414 Clinton St.

Charles Nelson started this distillery in Greenbrier, Tennessee, in the 1800s as one of the first to bottle and sell whiskey whether than sell it by the jug or barrel. When Charles passed away in 1891, his wife Louisa took over, becoming one of the only women to run a distillery.

Prohibition forced the distillery to close in 1909, but the business reopened a century later in Nashville thanks to Charles and Louisa’s great-great-great grandsons. The Greenbrier property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guests to the Nashville location can learn about the family’s story and tour the facility.

Kristi Eaton is a roving journalist, communications strategist and author of the book "The Main Streets of Oklahoma: Okie Stories From Every County." Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter to see photos from her travels.


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