Statesmen and Heroines
Tennessee has been home to countless men and women whose vision, daring, statesmanship, artistry and forethought changed the workld we live in. Here are a few to remember.
Gen. Frank Maxwell Andrews
Founding father of the U.S. Air Force; the first head of a centralized air force. In early 1943, he replaced Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander of the European Theater of Operations. Killed in an airplane accident in Iceland that year, he was the highest ranking U.S. officer to die in combat at the time. Andrews Air Force base in Maryland is named for him.
Cofounder (with her brother, Jim Stewart) of Stax Records; the driving force in Southern soul, which set the music world on fire with acts like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and Academy Award-winning superstar Isaac Hayes.
Huntsville native who served as Senate Majority Leader, White House Chief of Staff and Ambassador to Japan; known as the “Great Conciliator” for his ability to achieve compromises between factions. His father, Howard Sr., served 13 years in Congress.
Constitutional Convention delegate from North Carolina; only governor of the Southwest Territory; led committee to frame Tennessee’s constitution; senator from Tennessee; speaker of the State House of Representatives.
Richard and Henry Boyd
Father and son who developed a business empire that served African Americans, including the National Baptist Publishing Board and the Nashville Globe.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
into poverty by her father’s death, the budding author and her family came from England to live with relatives in New Market. Frances picked wild grapes to earn money for stamps and paper. Supported by her writing, the family was eventually moved to Knoxville. Widely traveled, Frances married her New Market neighbor, Dr. Swann Burnett, and continued to write stories and novels, including bestsellers Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden.
Dromgoole, trained as a lawyer, became a prolific writer, publishing a best-selling novel, plays, essays and poetry. She wrote for the Nashville American, served as clerk of the State Senate and literary editor of the Nashville Banner and was probably the first woman to serve in the U.S. Navy.
Renowned frontiersman and soldier, eventually, folk hero, who later served in Congress, traveled to Texas to fight in the Texas Revolution and died at the Alamo. His birthplace, childhood home and last home are all preserved in Tennessee.
Born near Bakerville and educated at Dickson College, she was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Appointed to finish her late husband’s term, she was later elected, by a landslide, to a full term‚ twice. She became the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first to chair a committee and the first, in 1943, to co-sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment. When asked why she did not speak more in the Senate, “Silent Hattie” said she hated “to take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so.”
Secretary of State Cordell Hull; secretaries of war, John Eaton and John Bell; Secretary of the Treasury George Campbell; Secretary of Labor Bill Brock; Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.
Attorneys General of the U.S.
Those from Tennessee include Felix Grundy and James C. McReynolds.
Dix was the pen name of Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, journalist whose newspaper articles were the forerunner of today’s advice columns. Published in more than 270 newspapers all over the world, Dix had an audience of 60 million readers at the time of her death in 1951.
Dinah Shore (Frances Rose Shore)
Born February 29, 1916,Winchester, Dinah Shore was a famous singer, actress and talk show host. Winner, 9 Emmys, a Peabody Award and a Golden Globe Award.
Nashville suffragist, held first Tennessee public meeting to discuss women's rights in 1876; delegate to the National Suffrage Convention in 1879; published her own newspaper The Tablet. She is one of three women commemorated in a statue in Knoxville's Market Square.
Peter C. Doherty
Originally a veterinarian from Australia, Doherty received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research into how T cells protect the body against virus. Currently conducts research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis.
Best known for her writing about the land and people of Appalachia and for her novel The Tall Woman, Dykeman wrote 18 books, thousands of newspaper columns and won countless awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the North Carolina Award for literature, and the Pride of Tennessee Award for her commitment to education and the humanities. She shared (with her husband James Stokely) the 1957 Sidney Hillman Award for Neither Black Nor White, deemed the year’s best book on peace, race relations or civil rights.
The first admiral of the American Navy was born in and grew up in what is now Knoxville. He is memorialized in popular culture for his heroic actions at the Battle of Mobile Bay and his cry, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.”
This Memphis jurist, a law professor at Yale, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, served on delegations that established the United Nations and argued landmark cases before the Supreme Court.
John Ogden, the Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith
Fisk University founders.
Cornelia Clark Fort
The first woman to die on active duty in the U.S. military, Fort was a Sarah Lawrence College graduate and Nashville Junior League member. Working as a flight instructor during the attack on Pearl Harbor, she used evasive maneuvers and narrowly avoided being hit by a Japanese bomber. Featured in war bond rallies and a short film, she was a founding member of the squadron that became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
Knoxville suffragist, 1851-1926 President, Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Inc.; Founder, Knoxville Equal Suffrage Association; Prominent statewide leader. She is one of three women commemorated in a statue in Knoxville's Market Square.
Three-term senator elected as President Clinton’s vice president in 1992 and 1996; won Nobel Prize for his environmental work. His father, Albert Gore Sr. was also a prominent U.S. Senator.
This Knoxville-born poet and Grammy nominee is a Distinguished Professor of Literature at Virginia Tech, where she gained additional national acclaim for her “We are Hokies” speech after the shooting at Virginia Tech. She also teaches part-time at her alma mater, Fisk University.
As one of East Tennessee’s most highly regarded self-taught artists, she achieved artistic accomplishment despite a life of poverty, a fourth-grade education and constant grueling efforts to support her eleven children. Her first artistic attempts were spiritually driven and therapeutic.
Houston, the only person in U.S. history to be elected governor in two different states, moved to Maryville when he was 14 years old. At 16, he ran away from home and was adopted by the Cherokee Nation. He returned to Maryville at age 19 and founded the first school built in Tennessee.
Executive director of the NAACP for 15 years and an active campaigner for civil rights in the United States.
Appointed as U.S. Secretary of State by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cordell Hull served during World War II and holds the distinction of being the longest-serving U.S. Secretary of State. Hull also championed the creation of the United Nations. For his efforts in creating the United Nations, Hull was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.
Known as “Old Hickory,” Jackson was the 7th U.S. president and hero of the War of 1812. Visit his home, The Hermitage, near Nashville.
Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, became president after Lincoln’s assassination. Visit his tailor shop and home.
Two-term U.S. Senator, twice a vice presidential candidate.
Heroine of Robert Hick’s historical novel The Widow of the South, McGavock’s home, Carnton, was at the epicenter of the Battle of Franklin. Carrie and her young children worked tirelessly with doctors tending hundreds of wounded brought to her door during the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War, including four generals who lay dead on her porch. The home’s floors still bear bloodstains. The McGavocks gave two acres of land for the burial of 1500 soldiers, and Carrie tended the graves daily until her death.
Elizabeth Avery Meriwether
Memphis suffragist who held first Tennessee public meeting to discuss women’s rights in 1876; delegate to the National Suffrage Convention in 1879 and newspaper publisher. On her attempt to vote in the 1876 Presidential election, she said, “What was important was to focus public attention to the monstrous injustice of including educated women with felons and lunatics as persons denied the right of suffrage.”
Explorer James Robertson and former Virginia legislator John Donelson left the Wautaga settlement in North Carolina and arrived on the banks of the Cumberland River on Christmas Day, 1779.
Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie
Known as the “godmother” of aviation, Omlie was a barnstorming pilot, wing walker and stunt pilot in the 1920s and ’30s; became the first woman appointed to a position in federal aviation, special assistant for air intelligence for the forerunner of NASA.
The Oscar- and Tony-winning actress grew up in Knoxville and performed with the Tennessee Valley Players before winning a Tony on Broadway and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Hud (1963). Married to Roald Dahl, author of children’s classics, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, Neal was paralyzed by strokes at age 39, leaving her comatose and unable to speak. She recovered to receive a second Oscar nomination for The Subject Was Roses (1968). The Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville is named in honor of her tireless work for brain-injured patients.
James K. Polk
Close friend of Andrew Jackson, Polk became 11th U.S. president in 1844. Visit his ancestral home in Columbia.
The first elected chief of the Eastern Cherokee, Ross was the founder of Ross’s Landing, which later became Chattanooga. Ross worked as an intermediary between Native Americans and white settlers, translating for missionaries and settlers, and was highly regarded for his efforts to negotiate treaties with Washington and his failed fight to prevent Cherokee removal.
Head of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, she gained fame for exposing widespread corruption in the office of former Gov. Ray Blanton. She was fired in 1977 when she refused to release prisoners in the administration’s “clemency for cash” scheme, but Blanton and his aides were eventually convicted. The book,Marie: A True Story, by Peter Maas was followed by a 1985 movie starring Sissy Spacek, Fred Thompson (Ragghianti’s real-life lawyer, in his first film), Morgan Freeman and Jeff Daniels.
Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon
A veteran of three space shuttle flights with more than 720 hours in space, Dr. Seddon is a native of Murfreesboro and a graduate of the UT College of Medicine. She has done research on radiation therapy, nutrition and cardiovascular experiments aboard the Shuttle Columbia.
Cherokee silversmith; in 1821 created a Cherokee alphabet and writing system. Cherokees adopted this syllabary in 1825 and quickly outstripped literacy rate of nearby white settlers. Visit his home in Vonore. In 1828, Sequoyah journeyed to Washington, D.C. to negotiate a treaty for land. His trip brought him into contact with representatives of other Native American tribes from around the nation. Within these meetings, he decided to create a syllabary for universal use among Native American tribes.
Gen. Carl Stiner
Retired four-star general of the U.S. Army; Commander in Chief of the United States Special Operations Command; played key role in the capture of the Achille Lauro highjackers and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega; led all special operations during Desert Storm.
First governor of Tennessee; Revolutionary War hero for his defeat of British troops at King’s Mountain.
Coach, University of Tennessee Lady Vols, the “all-time winningest” coach in college basketball history, men or women, with 8 national titles.
Supreme Court Justices
Supreme Court Justices from Tennessee include John Catron, Howell Jackson, James C. McReynolds, Edward T. Sanford and Abe Fortas.
Memphis, founder and chairman of Federal Express.
Former Tennessee senator; presidential candidate; and actor; famous for film and TV roles, including five years on Law & Order.
Cherokee “Beloved Woman,” who led her tribe to victory over the Creeks in the Battle of Taliwa; unofficial ambassador to the white settlers; transformed Cherokee life through development of weaving and raising of farm animals.
Soldier and explorer who founded Knoxville and donated land for permanent city; leader of the failed state of Franklin; tactful intermediary between whites and Native Americans; Tennessee’s representative to constitutional convention in 1796, a founder of Blount College, now University of Tennessee.
Memphis investigative journalist and early leader in both the Civil Rights and suffragist movements. Famous for documenting lynching and for refusing, 71 years before Rosa Parks, to give up her seat on a train.
An American singer, actress and movie legend, born in Knoxville, Mary Costa sang at the memorial service for U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy. Some of her movie credits include The Big Caper, Marry Me Again, Sleeping Beauty and The Great Waltz, depicting the life of Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. Costa has been recipient of many awards, among them: Lifetime Achievement Award, Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation; Disney Legends Award; Tennessee Woman of Distinction; Distinguished Verdi Performances of the 20th Century by the Metropolitan Opera Guild; presidential appointee to National Council on the Arts; award honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree; inducted into Knoxville Opera Hall of Fame.
One of the most decorated soldiers in American history, Sgt. York was a pacifist who nevertheless fought in World War I and received the Medal of Honor for capturing a German machine gun nest. Gary Cooper portrayed him in the 1941 film Sergeant York. Using his post-war fame for the greater good, York established the York Agricultural Institute in his hometown of Pall Mall and set out to increase educational opportunities in rural Tennessee.