Intended for wide distribution, broadsides were traditionally used as a tool to disseminate information. Printed on large sheets of paper and sometimes rich in illustration, broadsides were posted on buildings or handed out to the general population. These ephemera were often produced in mass quantities to advertise, promote or announce official proclamations, public meetings, and entertainment events. Originally designed to have an immediate impact on the observer, broadsides were created for disposable and temporary use.
While broadsides were created to be a disposable form of conveying information and not a documentation of history, the study of these ephemera reveals much more than their writers originally intended. Providing many insights into a culture, broadsides offer us an opportunity to interpret the daily activities and attitudes of a particular time period.
“The Ten Commandments of the Prohibitionists” reflects the social tensions sparked by the Prohibition movement. By making use of an anti-prohibitionist essay rich with satire, this broadside illustrates the controversial atmosphere that surrounded Prohibition. Beginning as an element of mid-19th century religious thinking, the movement brought about the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol from 1919 until 1933, when the Twenty-first Amendment repealed Prohibition laws.
Not only have broadsides been used to create awareness (as exemplified by those expressing anti-prohibitionist views), but they also made declarations and rallied citizens to civic duty, as in this call to arms. “Proclamation by Governor Newton Cannon Calling for 2500 Volunteers from Tennessee to Serve in Creek Country” takes us back to the volatile relationships that existed during the periods of settlement, expansion, and Native American removal. Included in this proclamation’s request for 2,500 Tennesseans to answer President Jackson’s call for war on the Creek Indians is an explanation of the reasoning behind the appeal and a description of the manner in which the volunteers are to be organized.
The broadside, “Keep Our White Schools White,” announces an upcoming lecture on desegregation in Nashville and offers a snapshot of the social climate during the Civil Rights Movement. The decision of the United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education was met in many sections of the country with enormous hostility. Those who opposed desegregation saw it as the precursor to social and cultural chaos. Its enactment brought on a long struggle marked by violent resistance.
Broadsides also convey various aspects of popular culture as seen in “Your Goodwill Station, WVOL Radio.” WVOL is a Nashville AM station that hit the airwaves in 1951, catering primarily to Nashville’s African American community. Then known as WSOK, it was located on 4th Ave. North where the Nashville Municipal Auditorium is now. In 1957, the call letters were changed to WVOL. Its original format was Gospel and R&B although it currently serves Nashville as an Adult Contemporary and Oldies station. Even though WVOL serves the greater Nashville area, it is known throughout the world as the station that launched Oprah Winfrey’s career.
One of the more recent broadsides displayed in this collection dates to 1982. “SGA of Vanderbilt Speakers’ Committee Presents F. Lee Bailey” advertises a lecture at Vanderbilt University entitled “The Defense Never Rests” by the accomplished defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey. Bailey served as criminal defense lawyer for O. J. Simpson and Sam Sheppard, among other high-profile cases.
A medium that made its debut as transitory marketing material a few centuries ago remains a durable form of communication to the masses even today. Broadsides continue to be produced in large quantities in order to disseminate information to the public. The broadsides showcased in this collection were chosen for their historical significance, the subject matter exhibited, the era represented, and/or their connection to Tennessee.
Bergeron, Paul, Stephen V. Ash and Jeanette Keith. Tennesseans and Their History Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.
Corlew, Robert E. Tennessee: A Short History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
Folmsbee, Stanley J. Tennessee: A Short History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1969.
The Goodspeed’s Histories of Giles, Lincoln, Franklin and Moore Counties of Tennessee. Columbia, TN: Woodward and Stinson Printing Company, 1972.
Lamon, Lester C. Blacks in Tennessee, 1791-1970. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
Library Broadside Collection, Manuscripts Section, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.
Lincoln County Heritage Committee. Heritage of Lincoln County, Tennessee. Waynesville, NC: County Heritage Inc., 2005.
Weeks, Terry and Bob Womack. A History of Tennessee. Montgomery, AL: Clairmont Press, 1990.
West, Carroll Van. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998.
West, Carroll Van. Tennessee History: The Land, the People and the Culture. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1998.