secret_history (2006-38)

Idle Chatter

Rumors of Miss Evelyn, the Red Hand Limbo, and the suffragist trio

by Jack Neely

I get the impression that anybody ever associated with UT’s College of Liberal Arts before 1970 has some story about, or at least impression of, Miss Evelyn Hazen. After she famously sued a former lover in a breach of promise suit that got national attention in 1934, she worked for several years in UT’s Ayres Hall, as administrative assistant to John Cunyus Hodges, the English department’s most famous chairman.

The subject of a new book, The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen, she was in many ways a cipher. Of those UT veterans I’ve spoken with, few have very warm feelings for her, and some recall her as imperious and snooty, quick to remind the unwashed of her old family or her wealth.

Most of them mention longstanding rumors that she was in some way personally involved with Hodges himself. Famous for the Harbrace Handbook that he based on UT students’ grammatical errors, and now honored with his name on UT’s main library, the newly widowed Hodges hired the scandal-bedeviled former schoolteacher around 1951, when she would have been in her 50s.

All I can say about the rumors is that they were inevitable. Whenever two remarkable people of the opposite sex work closely together, people are going to talk. Even if the two people are in their 50s and 60s. And especially if one of them is Miss Evelyn Hazen.

She served as Hodges’ personal secretary for some years, and is said to have typed revisions to his grammar book. Some claim she even took a hand in writing that book much dreaded by generations of freshmen coast to coast, but my friend Allison Ensor, professor of English, thinks that’s impossible. The first Harbrace Handbook came out in 1941, a decade before Hazen went to work for Hodges.

Hodges died in 1967, a couple of years before Hazen retired to her lonesome home on Dandridge Avenue.

After cheering them on, I have to confess I’m a little frustrated with the new countdown walking lights along Gay Street downtown.  They don’t make much sense.

I’ve griped for a couple of years now that our crossing intervals are longer than those of almost any other downtown I’ve visited. And that the don’t-walk hand is on more than 10 times longer than the walk sign. 

Knoxvillians have to wait much longer to legally cross Gay Street than New Yorkers have to wait to cross Broadway. I don’t know why that is, and I can’t find anyone who’s able to tell me. It’s just the way it is, Bud.

The flashing-numeral countdown, though, would at least tell us how soon the light was going to change, so we could assess our own chances. Or so I thought.

The lights do that on the cross streets very effectively. If you’re crossing Clinch, the countdown will tell you exactly how many seconds until the traffic light turns yellow. Even crossing busy Summit Hill, it counts down to the time the yellow comes on. That’s an improvement. Crossing Summit Hill, a major impediment to downtown’s coherence, is easier now.

But crossing less-hazardous Gay Street, for some reason, the intervals seem just as long as they ever were, and the countdown doesn’t tell you how soon the light’s going to change. It counts down to the period of about 20 seconds when pedestrians get to stand there waiting and wondering what’s going on. It’s the same Red Hand Limbo we used to indulge, or ignore.

The practical result of the inconsistency and the long interval and the mysterious wait is that the new countdown lights are ignored as universally as the previous ones were. You can double-check me on this, but I would be surprised if the compliance rate were as high as 20 percent.

The Women’s Suffrage monument went in on Market Square a few months ago, and it’s a lovely thing to behold. A rendition in bronze by well-known Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire, it’s both graceful and unyielding, maybe like its subject.

Being a literalist, I had a few technical problems with the interpretation. It’s been discussed for years, and when I first heard of it, I heard it was to be a statue of Lizzie Crozier French, the bold Knoxville suffragette who touted equal rights standing alone on her soapbox in Market Square more than a century ago. Representing her by herself would have been poetic and representative of how she sometimes had to get things done.

But the statue represents three women, not just the one. At some point the decision was made to bring in two other suffrage heroes from Memphis and Nashville: Elizabeth Avery Meriwether and Anne Dallas Dudley, respectively.

They all appear to be youngish women, about the same age, in spite of the fact that their eras barely overlapped, and that Meriwether was 52 years older than Dudley. I’m not sure these three even knew each other, but I’ve been told that the arrangement enabled major funding from statewide institutions, and it became known as the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Memorial.

The busy inscriptions below, hundreds of engraved words arranged something like a power-point presentation, with bullets and catch phrases like “Uniquely Peaceful Movement,” is educational, and I’ve seen a lot of people standing there reading it. But it makes me miss the days when all you found at the base of a statue was a name and some dates and an enigmatic scrap of poetry.

It’s the second new statue in that neighborhood in as many years. We weren’t always a statue-building town. A landmark 1929 urban-planning study remarked on the fact that Knoxville was a city peculiarly devoid of statues. “Considering the historical background of the city, Knoxville is greatly lacking in monuments,” it went. “No cognizance has been taken of the intensely interesting persons and events that helped make the early history of Knoxville.”

At that time, I think, there were only three statues downtown, the Spanish-American War statue on the courthouse lawn, the Fireman memorial statue then at old Emory Park, and the Doughboy statue in front of old Knoxville High. The recommendation was that the city find something to commemorate, and correct the omission. But this being Knoxville, nothing was done about it for half a century.

We seem to have broken the logjam. Today there are, by my count, 11 statues in the downtown area—and six of them have gone in in the last eight years or so.

Beloved Woman in the federal courthouse yard depicts a Cherokee tradition. But the suffrage monument is the first statue in Knoxville to represent any actual woman. Saying “It’s about time” is the sort of thing columnists are supposed to say to sound bold, even though no one would disagree. But it is.