Mary Emily Jackson was born in 1849, the daughter of Sarah and Miles Anderson Jackson, Jr., of Cedar Hill. She married James H. Byrns in 1868, and they lived on his farm near Sturgeon Creek.
Her brother Joseph fought for the Confederacy and died at the Battle of Atlanta.
The Byrns’ first son was named for Joseph Jackson. This was Joseph Wellington Byrns, later the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Joseph Wellington Byrns, called Joe by family and friends, was born in 1869 in their small one-story house.
His middle name came from his grandfather, John Wellington Byrns, also from Cedar Hill.
Mary Jackson Byrns barely reached five feet. Her father-in-law called her a “very pretty, smart little wife.” Both of her sons were tall and lanky and towered over her.
Farm work was of course important to the Byrns family. Joseph Wellington Byrns, as late as his 21st year, still worked in the tobacco field in Robertson County. His knowledge of agriculture gave him a political advantage throughout his life.
Religion was also important to the family, and they were members of the Cedar Hill Methodist Church. Later in her life, Mary Byrns lived in Nashville. She was never a club member, but she was a church member and attended Belmont Methodist Church.
Also important was education. As a first grader, Joe attended nearby Gunn School. When he was older, he walked the two miles into Cedar Hill for school.
Education meant so much that James and Mary Byrns gave up their home as well as the closeness of family and friends to move into Nashville. They wanted their children to continue their education.
Joe was 15 when the move was made.
He attended Fogg High School, later Hume-Fogg, and he still walked to school. The family lived in East Nashville, so Joe crossed the Woodland Street Bridge from their home on Berry Street. He focused on debate and public speaking at Fogg High School before graduating in 1887.
His education continued.
Joe next became a student at Vanderbilt. After two years, he transferred to the School of Law. Luckily, it was then located on what is now Fourth Avenue. Joe studied his law books as he walked.
In June, 1890, Joseph Wellington Byrns graduated from Vanderbilt and soon began practicing law.
In his first years as a lawyer, his finances were limited. He continued to live at home, and he continued to walk to work.
The family moved several times – but always within one mile of downtown Nashville.
The story is told by a distant cousin, Ann Irish, that a friend of Joe’s dad ran into the young lawyer in the lobby of the Maxwell House Hotel. The friend suggested that Joe run for political office.
He was 25 when he entered politics. The rest is history.
James Burns, Joe’s dad, died in 1905, before his son became a Congressman. He did see Joe become Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
His mom died in 1929. She had traveled to visit a daughter in Florida and was injured in a car accident there. Joe was with her when she died 10 days later.
When elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, Joseph Wellington Byrns said,” I wished for Mother because I know how she would have rejoiced…. I am sure, though, that she knows.”
Mary Emily Jackson Byrns was and is like many mothers – sacrificing for her children, ambitious for them, proud of them.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!
In the Eagle’s Eye is sponsored by the Robertson County Historical Society. Call 615-382-7173 for more information.