Murfreesboro Mama: 6 things to know about the Leading Ladies of Rutherford County's History project

Mar 28, 2022 at 08:00 am by Laura Beth Payne


Maybe you heard the buzz three years ago: the Rutherford County Arts Alliance was collaborating with local institutions to produce a play and a website celebrating Rutherford County’s historic female leaders and the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage was coming.

Then a pandemic.

So there might have been a few setbacks, but as history shows a few obstacles won’t stop women on a mission! The Leading Ladies of Rutherford County's History project and the Party of Twelve production has endured, with the play premiering April 8-10.

While the play Party of Twelve is the (main) thing, in the Leading Ladies initiative, it is by no means the only thing. An intricate website of educational resources, stories, and partners has been collected online for citizens, parents, and educators to use. Start with these six things to know and let them lead you further on in the saga of local women’s history

 1. Party of Twelve is about dialogue

More than documentary of the past, Party of Twelve, written by Mary Donnett Johnson, and directed by Danielle Roos, is a dynamic story for all ages now. Set in modern day with a college student facing a looming project deadline, the play takes the young woman back in time to witness—and engage with—powerful women in Rutherford County’s past.

“The point of the history is the fact that it is a dialogue, it is change related” says Susan Gulley, director of heritage and cultural history for the Rutherford County convention and visitors center and active participant in the Leading Ladies project. “The women in the play are from different races, different places in the social hierarchy. This is very intentional.”

While there's plenty of whimsy and fun in the play, Gulley points out the play highlights the many hard and difficult conversations it takes to create change in society. Just as the production focuses on this kind of dialogue, so the creators hope to foster further conversation in viewers about what it takes to continually make society better.

 2. The Leading Ladies project is an experience

A brochure by the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation & the TN Civil War National Heritage Area, In the Footsteps of Notable Women provides addresses and access information for visiting historic places where the county’s women have lived, worked, and advocated including Oaklands Mansion, Ransom School House, Childress House, and others. A collaborative display "From the Nation’s Capital to Neighborhood Classrooms: Rutherford County Women, Past and Present" sponsored by the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, and the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, further highlights local female leaders such as Rhea Seddon, Willie Betty Newman, and Mary Ellen Vaughn. 

Viewed before the play, or after, these resources help history come to life and invite guests to consider how it’s still unfolding. 

 3. There’s a Leading Ladies booklist

I’ve dabbled in Rutherford County historical documents off and on for years, but I’ve never seen a reading list such has been gathered for the Leading Ladies site. From the Civil War diaries of Kate Carne to recordings of MTSU’s first years, the bibliography is impressive and empowering for those of us living now. It’s a lesson in how we got here, and maybe a good light for where we need to go next.

4. It’s for the kids

True, all of this might be a little over your six year old’s head, but is it ever really too early to teach our kids that they are a part of history? Get the conversation started with them with coloring pictures on the Leading Ladies website (created by Cultural Arts Murfreesboro) featuring the county’s great dames like Myrtle Glanton Lord, Sarah Polk, and Annie Brawley Jackson.

Young ones can also snag Insta-worthy pics in cut outs of the famous ladies at the play (and wherever promotional events are held), or at the Leading Ladies art mural off of Vine Street where they can match clues from the site and then “see” themselves in history.

As for the play itself, if your kiddos can sit (relatively) quietly in a theater chair for a little over an hour, they’ll find plenty to interest them there.

5. You can join the story

Certainly the local story doesn’t end—or begin!—with twelve  or any other number. The story continues, and the Leading Ladies project is committed to listening. Residents are encouraged to submit their own stories of local “leading ladies” in their own lives on the site

6. You can keep learning

Stay social with the Leading Ladies project by following their FB and IG pages where you can get sneak peeks and teasers for the play along with great educational content for all ages. There are also great ways to get involved from volunteering to future collaborations to keep the conversation going.

Ready to go? See Party of Twelve April 8-10 at the Washington Theatre in Patterson Park. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. All tickets are $10 with a $2 discount for groups of 10 or more. Purchase tickets on the Center for the Arts website


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