Lousia Christine Rolfing was born in Germany in 1838. Her family eventually immigrated to Cincinnati where she married Charles, another German immigrant, in 1863. They quickly made the move to Nashville where Charles worked as a grocer.
Charles seemed to have a knack for finding the best of the best for his customers, especially when it came to whiskey. He purchased a distillery in Greenbrier in 1867 and developed a patent to significantly improve the distilling process. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey quickly made a name for itself and the company began to grow.
Sadly, Charles’ ambition was cut short when he died at 56. Where other businesses may have passed to a son, another family member, or the highest bidder, Nelson’s took a different route: Louisa became president of the distillery. A woman running a whiskey distillery when she did not even have the right to vote would have raised eyebrows in the male-dominated industry. All eyes were on Louisa as she took her place at the helm of the company, expected to make decisions about securing capital, national distribution, distilling techniques, and more. The pressure must have been nearly intolerable at times.
Louisa not only met expectations, she exceeded them. Under her leadership, Nelson’s continued its production capacity of 380,000 gallons of whiskey and spirits each year (Jack Daniel’s was only producing 23,000 gallons) and began distributing as far away as Europe and the Philippines. Her own ambition and shrewd business sense allowed Nelson’s to become one of the largest and most successful distilleries in the world. Even as a successful executive, Louisa was a dedicated single mother, tending to her household, raising her six children, and equally supporting both her sons and daughters as they attended college.
No amount of business sense could save Nelson’s from Prohibition, however. When it passed in 1909, Nelson’s was forced to close. Louisa died in 1918, one year before women were given the right to vote. The headline of her obituary read: NOBLE WOMAN PASSES AWAY.
Today, the Nelson legacy has been resurrected by their descendants, Andy and Charlie, in Nashville. They keep the memory of Louisa alive through the annual Louisa Nelson Awards Gala, dedicated to honoring the achievements of noteworthy Nashville women. They also continue to distill plenty of their famous historical whisky- in a massive copper still fondly named ‘Miss Louisa’.