Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo
March is Women’s History Month, and a great time to shine a light on some of the extraordinary women who have called Clarksville home. Brenda Vineyard Runyon is an excellent example of a woman who aspired to do it all – even at a time when most women were heavily discouraged from working outside the home. Before women gained the right to vote, Brenda Runyon forged a very public path for herself, and set up institutions with women in mind.
Brenda Vineyard Runyon (1868–1929)
Brenda spent the first several years of her marriage to Trenton, Kentucky native Dr. Frank Runyon raising their two children. Soon after they married, the Runyons set up house in Downtown Clarksville, and as her children got older, Brenda wasted no time becoming a pillar of the Clarksville community. She loved to teach and be involved in education any way she could. The Runyons were members of First Baptist Church, where Brenda taught Sunday School and led a men’s Baraca Bible Study, a popular Bible study movement at the time. Brenda also served as the first woman on the Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board.
“You Can Help”
W.T. Benda, 1918
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
The Red Cross
During World War I, Brenda Runyon became involved in the effort to expand local chapters of the Red Cross. Brenda helped to establish Clarksville’s first Red Cross chapter in 1917 along with other local women and served as the director of the chapter. The Red Cross experienced a surge of new chapters opening between 1914 and 1918. Women who wanted to be involved in the war effort could help in a humanitarian capacity through the organization.
First Woman’s Bank Stock Certificate, October 6, 1919
Archives Collection, Customs House Museum & Cultural Center
The First Woman’s Bank
When you think of the first bank owned and operated by women, do you think about Clarksville? You should! Following up on the national post-war energy, Runyon organized a group of women to establish The First Woman’s Bank in 1919 – the very first bank of its kind in the country. Early 20th-century women were beginning to assert themselves with the women’s suffrage movement in full swing. Historically, men handled all financial matters for the household, and women were regarded as legal minors in many ways. World War I changed this mindset forever when women were suddenly needed in the public sphere. When all the men went to war, jobs opened up. Many women didn’t want the opportunities to stop when the war ended. The bank operated out of the Arlington Hotel (now the site of a parking lot), right across the street from the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s 1898 post office building. In her role as bank president, Brenda encouraged women to save money in their own bank accounts and invest in the stock market, positively changing the lives of many women in Clarksville.
Learn more about Brenda Runyon and other historical Clarksville figures in the Becoming Clarksville exhibit inside Heritage Hall in the Museum’s 1898 building. Stay tuned for the rest of March as we highlight key historical women of Clarksville.
Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a B.A. in History from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters.