Dowdle Completes Construction of “Votes For Women” Exhibit at the Nashville Public Library

votes for women nashville public library

Dowdle Completes Construction of “Votes For Women” Exhibit at the Nashville Public Library

By Chase Manning

In August, America celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, which was granted when Tennessee cast a tie-breaking vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In honor of this centennial year, Dowdle Construction Group undertook a unique public project in Nashville Public Library’s main location downtown: the Votes For Women exhibit. 

votes for women women's vistoryDesigned by Tuck Hinton Architecture & Design, the 2,400-square-foot permanent display commemorates the nearly 80-year struggle that women underwent to obtain the right to vote. The exhibit takes visitors through decades of suffragist history and provides a space to explore the core themes surrounding women’s roles, democracy and power.

The History

Three prominent Nashville women – Margaret Behm, Jeanie Nelson and Juli Mosley – led the charge for the creation of the exhibit. This is fitting because of Nashville and the library’s notable roles in women’s history.

Nashville’s first paid public librarian, Mary Hannah Johnson, began her post in 1901 at what was then known as the Carnegie Library of Nashville. She was responsible for a number of transformative initiatives, including implementing the Dewey Decimal System, curating a large collection of Nashville and Tennessee books and starting a children’s story time that still continues today.

Mary was also a passionate suffragist, and she joined many other women in the fight when the deciding vote for the ratification of the 19th Amendment came down to the state of Tennessee. As the capital city, Nashville was a hotbed for the issue, and many suffragists gathered here to protest and lobby Tennessee leaders. Thanks to the determination and perseverance of these brave women, all American women gained the right to vote.

The Design and Construction

votes for women timelineLocated across the hall from the Civil Rights Room (also designed by Tuck Hinton in 2001) and down the hall from the children’s area (another project of ours), the new exhibit room gives visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the entire history as well as the present day understanding of the activist movement. The exhibit features six interactive digital experiences, including an interactive voting exercise, a timeline of the history of women’s suffrage and four themed alcoves with accompanying displays:

  1. “It Happened Here,” which describes the events that unfolded in the state capital
  2. “People of the Movement,” which profiles the most prominent figures within the suffrage movement
  3. “Beyond 2020,” which shares where the gender equality movement is heading
  4. “Rights Won, But Not Done,” which challenges visitors to think about how they can continue the movement toward gender equality in their own way


votes for women voting activityThe spotlight piece of the room is a uniquely designed interactive sitting area known as the “Halo of Inspiration.” The central element metaphorically gives all visitors “a seat at the table” through an interactive voting experience. Up to 20 visitors can participate in a genuine voting simulation – on any topic of choice – where each “voter” has the ability to cast their “yes” or “no” vote, or they have the choice to abstain. In real-time, participants see how their choices (or lack thereof) impact the larger group.

From a construction standpoint, the project wasn’t necessarily large in scope, but it was complex, especially the Halo with its circular shape. We had to ensure that the curve of the ceiling piece was exactly symmetrical with the LED panel walls and the flooring. The metal framing had to be done on the floor and then raised up. Then we applied drywall at level-five finish – the highest-end finish possible, requiring multiple layers to make sure there were no imperfections. Any bumps or depressions would stick out like a sore thumb, especially with LED lighting shining down to illuminate the space. The Halo is truly the feature piece of the room.

votes for women modern touchesSince the library building has a notable classical design, we tried to repurpose as much of the existing room and alcoves as possible, while opening up the space to make it feel larger. This included keeping and refinishing some of the original elements, such as the existing wood trim. Other finishes include custom door hardware and butt-joint and glazed glass accents. The building has a lot of personality, so our goal was to keep that character intact, while adding some modern touches.

The most modern touches, of course, are the interactive LED elements. Our role was to get all of the electrical wiring and the specific spaces set up for the installation to happen last. Then, all those pieces were installed by the interactive exhibit team.

As a whole, this space is a treasure for the community to be able to come in and experience. It was a pleasure to have been a part of it.