Initial credit for the establishment of a national park in the Smokies goes to Ann Davis, a housewife-turned-state legislator who conceived the idea following a trip she took with her husband to many of the national parks out west in 1923.
At the time, only Acadia National Park in Maine existed in the eastern U.S., and Davis began working to preserve the Smokies with the same federal protection. She and her husband founded the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, a critical organization responsible for many early successes in the park’s development, and the two began raising support and awareness for the idea. While her husband worked to garner financial backing within Knoxville’s business community, Davis ran for an open seat in Tennessee’s General Assembly in 1924 and won, only the third woman in the state to do so.
During her two-year term, Davis sponsored legislation for the purchase of more than 75,000 mountain acres from a lumber company to begin gathering land for the park. When other legislators opposed this use of state funds and failed the initial bill for the land purchase, Davis organized a trip for the entire legislature to come explore the land in question. This experience changed enough assembly members’ minds that the bill’s second round passed, and Gov. Austin Peay wholeheartedly signed the bill into law in April 1925.
Her mission complete, Davis returned to her previous life as a housewife at the end of her term. After her husband died, she moved to Gatlinburg in 1931 to be closer to her beloved Smoky Mountains, and she was there for the official authorization of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June 1934.
After her death in 1957, she and her husband were honored with the naming of Mount Davis and Davis Ridge between Silers Bald and Thunderhead Mountain within the park they fought for and won.