Women's History Trail Franklin NC


Women's History Trail Leadership Team

About the Women's History Trail

Telling Our Story

What is the Women’s History Trail (WHT)?

The Women’s History Trail (WHT), a project of the local non-profit heritage group (Folk Heritage Association of Macon County), is comprised of four elements that link the past to the present and the future: (1) Walk in Her Steps Women’s History Trail, (2) Sowing the Seeds of the Future Sculpture, (3) WHT Macon Matriarch and (4) the annual WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship. WHT is dedicated to discovering and sharing stories of Macon County’s remarkable women from the past through various public art mediums and markers along a designated walking trail. Narrative about three early women who played significant parts in the tumultuous years of Macon County’s settlement led to the concept of a public sculpture based on their interconnected lives. Presently, WHT seeks to honor accomplished women from our local elders who have a made a lasting, positive difference in Macon County by selecting an annual WHT Macon Matriarch. To encourage young women in their pursuit of educational goals, the WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship is given annually to a female graduate who embraces community involvement, volunteerism, and academic achievement thus leading the way for advancement as they prepare for the future. WHT’s goals of education and preservation are mirrored by their umbrella organization’s purpose (Folk Heritage Association of Macon County): To provide living history experiences and to preserve the heritage of Macon County for generations to come.


Women's History Trail Franklin NC

Theresa Ramsey Quote FHAMC

WHT – How it all started…

Barbara McRae, former Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC) Board Member and Vice Mayor for the Town of Franklin until her death in 2021, was a well know historian and an expert in researching our area’s rich cultural past. Her dream of showcasing the legacy of remarkable women who lived a full, giving life in perilous times and made an indelible mark on their community, culminated in her vision to create a Women’s History Trail in downtown Franklin, NC. She informally met with interested parties on March 2, 2016, to share her ideas and the group, filled with passion for preserving community history and connecting previous disparate threads of the past, decided to meet again on April 6, 2016, as a steering committee to describe initial subcommittees and discuss next steps. On April 7, 2016, Barbara presented her concept of a Women’s History Trail to FHAMC, and the board voted to take on this project under the umbrella of the FHAMC; many of the volunteers on the initial steering committee were also members of the Board, and more interested individuals were encouraged to join. After a couple of years researching and identifying key historical women/groups of women, the Walk in Her Steps Women’s History Trail officially opened in 2018 with 9 sites. Additional plaques have been added bringing the current total to 20 sites along its designated walking path. More trail markers are planned and will include the Sowing the Seeds of the Future sculpture to mark the Trailhead.

(1) Walking in Her Steps – Women’s History Trail

Mary Polanski, co-chair of WHT, stated “the late Barbara McRae first shared her vision of celebrating women and honoring their accomplishments with the creation of a trail to Walk in Her Steps and experience history in a deeper, more personal way. Barbara’s goal was to identify appropriate spaces, create artwork/exhibits for those women (or groups being honored at specific areas), and link the locations by joining them together into a walking trail with signage that tell their stories.” Theresa Ramsey, WHT Leadership/FHAMC Treasurer added, “the trail connects industrious Macon County women from all walks of life. Even though those honored along the trail are diverse in the groups they represent, the strong bond that weaves them all together is their story of ingenuity, endurance, and commitment to improve the lives of their families.” This first element, the actual designated “Trail” gives individuals an opportunity to Walk in Her Steps and bring history to life. Download a copy of the trail map at https://www.folkheritageassociation.org.

(2) Sowing the Seeds of the Future Sculpture

In late 2018, WHT commissioned nationally renowned figurative sculptor Wesley Wofford to begin work on creating a 7-foot-high, 1,500-pound bronze sculpture grouping of three women and two children whose lives and cultures intersected in the early days of Macon County. Taken from his Artist Statement, Wesley Wofford shares, “This sculpture tells the story of three women - a Cherokee woman (Na-Ka Rebecca Morris), an enslaved woman (Salley), and a pioneer woman (Harriet Timoxena Siler Sloan) - all connected by a specific piece of property that was on the Little Tennessee River across from the Noquisiyi (sometimes rendered as Nikwasi) Mound. It represents these historical women but also symbolizes each group of women and their cultural contributions…The sculpture is a metaphor for the evolution of modern society, a narrative about three local women, as well as a history lesson with embedded historically accurate details. It is intended to acknowledge and celebrate women’s contribution, to inspire future generations of girls and women to pursue their dreams, and to challenge us all to learn from the past and aspire for a more equitable future.”

After FHAMC’s five-year journey to complete and fund this historic piece, on Friday, May 12th, the Sowing the Seeds of the Future sculpture received its final bronze casting at Pyrology in Bastrop, Texas. Three members of the WHT Leadership Team (Marty Greeble, Mary Polanski and Claire Suminski) traveled to the foundry where they joined Academy Award winning sculptor Wofford to take part in this momentous event. Comments they expressed included, “The experience of watching the final patina application to the bronze sculpture was memorable, a once in a lifetime moment.” (Polanski), “The diversity of the women in this monumental piece of public art is so meaningful to the message of our project” (Greeble), and “This is an experience I’ll never forget” (Suminski). “The Women’s History Trail leadership will be busy this summer planning and helping design a pocket park by the Main Street bridges for the site of installation,” informed Marty Greeble, co-chair of WHT. Richard Clark, local landscaper, will soon begin working on hardscaping at the sculpture’s permanent home in the area between East and NE Main Street. The Town of Franklin, owners of the land parcel, will also make improvements to the site in order to be ready to receive this gift of public art, Sowing the Seeds of the Future Sculpture, from the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County/Women’s History Trail. The date for the dedication of the sculpture and park is set for Saturday, March 23, 2024 at the home of the new park, "Women's History Park" located at 592 E. Main Street, Franklin, NC. The Unveiling Ceremony, Sculpture Dedication, WHT Trailhead Designation and Donation to the Town of Franklin will begin at 11 am.  Other activities are also planned prior and after the ceremony celebration.  Due to limited parking at the site, we encourage visitors to park at East Franklin Elementary School and use the free shuttle service to the park.

The sculpture will serve as the Trailhead for the Women’s History Trail (Walk in Her Steps) project. Although the sculpture itself has been funded through generous donors and fundraising efforts, the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County is still seeking donations to cover final site installation/landscaping costs to “achieve a good, comfortable finish line for this important project,” added Polanski.

(3) WHT Macon Matriarch

The Women’s History Trail project adopted an activity in 2018 that was implemented in March as a part of Women’s History Month. This annual activity continues to be a celebratory event to honor a Matriarch here in Macon County. Our past recipients have been Margaret Ramsey, Sally Kesler, Dot Crawford, Roberta Swank, and Jessie Cabe. In March 2023, the organization recognized the achievements of 90-year-old Sue Waldroop, whose family has been entrenched in Macon County since at least the 1800s. The Macon Matriarch award focuses on the impact women’s lives have made in this county. Women are nominated for their service in such areas as education, local government, heritage, arts, and occupation. Select FHAMC/WHT members evaluate nomination comments and information as well as public opinion and stories shared in order to determine the annual honoree. “We have such treasures in our community…we don’t want to miss an opportunity to honor them,” expressed Anne Hyder, FHAMC Chair and WHT Leadership Team member.

(4) WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship

In an effort to increase awareness about the Women’s History Trail, the importance of women’s heritage, and impactful roles they play in a student’s life, especially career and educational goals, the Women’s History Trail established an annual scholarship for graduating seniors in Macon County. Once the application process is complete, a WHT selection committee reviews applications, the recipient is chosen, and the student is recognized in the spring. Named after the late Women’s History Trail visionary and founder, Barbara Sears McRae, this scholarship awards $500 to a female candidate that strongly exemplifies community involvement, volunteerism, and academic achievement. Callie Roper from Franklin High School was selected for the 2023 WHT Barbara Sears McRae Academic Scholarship.

Folk Heritage Association of Macon County (FHAMC)

In addition to sponsorship of the Women’s History Trail projects, FHAMC partners with like-minded groups to participate in heritage events throughout the year like the upcoming 4th Grade Heritage Day (November 9) and Cowee Christmas and the Balsam Bee (December 2) being held at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center. This 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture and folkways of our Southern Appalachian Mountains. By providing living history experiences through hands-on demonstrations, FHAMC strives to keep Macon County’s heritage alive! The major goals of FHAMC are to EDUCATE: Increase understanding of past generations/history of where we come from; DEMONSTRATE: Showcase everyday skills, crafts, and music of our ancestors; and PRESERVE: Promote awareness of the need to preserve the folk heritage of Macon County. The FHAMC Board is comprised of dedicated volunteers who share the common goal to preserve our heritage.

Please contact FHAMC or a WHT Leadership Team Member to learn more about their projects or find out how you might get involved! Visit https://www.folkheritageassociation.org for more information.