IT’S HARD to imagine now, but there was a time when women weren’t allowed to cross the Fayetteville downtown square unattended. In the mid-1800s, several saloons were located around the square, and it simply wasn’t safe. However, one woman decided that the dangerous environment that existed just a few blocks from her front door was not acceptable, and she set out to change it. That woman was Silena Moore Holman.
Silena was no stranger to overcoming obstacles and hardship. The oldest of five children, she went to work as a teacher after her father died from battle wounds in the Civil War. At the time, she was fourteen. Eventually, the young woman earned enough money to buy back the family home lost after her father’s death.
In 1875, she married physician and elder T. P. Holman in the Washington Street Church of Christ in Fayetteville. From her home on Mulberry Avenue, Silena not only cared for her eight children, but she also served the public for over 35 years. She advocated for women’s rights and passionately promoted prohibition. For 15 years, she served as president of the Tennessee Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Under her leadership, the organization grew to over 4,000 members. The Temperance Union was one of the first organizations of women devoted to social reform.
Selina was a skilled debater and certainly wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. In addition to being a strong proponent of female leadership in the church, she also took on other issues, such as the use of wine in communion services. Silena insisted that wine was not biblical and that grape juice should be used instead. Eventually, she persuaded local elders and deacons of the Christian Church (later the Church of Christ) to use grape juice instead of wine. A dedicated wife, mother, and churchwoman, Silena was highly educated, an eloquent speaker, and an articulate writer with over 100 published articles. When she died in 1815, over 1,000 people attended her funeral.
To date, only two portraits of women have graced the walls of the state capital. One was Silena, and the other, Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson. Today, the original painting of Silena hangs in the Tennessee State Museum. A replica portrait created by the same Nashville company that copied the state constitution hangs in the Lincoln County Courthouse in recognition of her life’s work.
Throughout history, women have played a prominent role in shaping Lincoln County, including establishing the hospital and beautiful library. The Women of Lincoln County, a committee recently formed to recognize the contributions of notable women, is on a mission to share these inspiring stories so that young girls of today and tomorrow can follow in their footsteps and become change-makers of the future. -GN