Monday, August 24, 2015

95th Anniversary of the Certification of Tennessee's Ratification of the 19th Amendment

95 years ago today, Governor Albert H. Roberts certified Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Roberts had called a special session of the General Assembly to consider ratification on Aug. 9 of that year. At that time, 35 states had ratified the 19th Amendment, eight had rejected it, and five had not yet voted. Tennessee provided the 36th and final state needed to ratify this landmark amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Women's Suffrage Ratification in the Tennessee Senate Chamber, 1920, Library Collection. This photograph from the "Ratification Issue" of the Nashville Tennessean, Sunday morning, August 29, 1920, depicts the Senate chamber at the moment that the clerk counted the historic vote on women's suffrage.

State and national pro- and anti-suffrage leaders descended on Nashville for an intense summer of lobbying in Nashville. Anti-suffragists wore red roses, and suffragists wore yellow roses during the "War of the Roses." State legislators proclaimed their allegiance to by the color of the roses on their lapels. On Aug. 18, after a motion to table the vote ended in a tie, a roll call vote on ratification followed. Young Rep. Harry T. Burn of Niota quietly changed his vote to "aye" following the adivce of his mother, Febb Burn, who had sent him a letter (linked below) urging him to vote in support of ratification. The Tennessee state legislature voted to approve the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Anti-suffragists did not give up, and worked to rescind the ratification vote. Some anti-suffrage legislators even fled the state to leave the General Assembly short of a quorum, but their efforts failed. Governor Roberts signed Tennessee's ratification of the 19th Amendment, and sent it to Washington. On August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation that declared the amendment ratified.

Please!, 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers. A young suffragist implores the Tennessee General Assembly to support ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Anti-suffragists believed that women should remain free and unsullied by the strife of politics, and exert their influence in their homes and with their children for the betterment of society. The anti-suffrage movement had dedicated, earnest leaders from Tennessee. Among them was Josephine A. Pearson of Monteagle, the president of the Tennessee Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and the Southern Women's League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which produced the anti-suffrage piece below.

America When Feminized, n.d., Josephine A. Pearson Papers. A mother hen walks out on her eggs leaving the rooster to set them. According to this broadside, giving women the right to vote would make men “sissies” and doom civilization.

Tennessee women played a vital role in the rallying votes for the 19th Amendment. Ann Dallas Dudley of Nashville, Sue Shelton White of Jackson, Lizzie Crozier French of Knoxville, and Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga were among many who worked for years to gain popular and legislative support for women’s suffrage. On October 27 of this year, a new woman suffrage monument will be dedicated in Nashville to honor the women who fought for the right to vote.

Ann Dallas Dudley with her children, n.d., Library Photograph Collection

Learn more about Tennessee’s role as the "Perfect 36" in the passage of the 19th Amendment, and see more images from our collections, in our online exhibit, “Remember the Ladies": Women Struggle for an Equal Voice: See also "Woman Suffrage Movement" in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:

Tennessee certificate of ratification of the 19th Amendment, August 24, 1920. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U. S. House of Representatives.

Febb Burn letter to her son Harry, encouraging him to vote for ratification of the 19th Amendment. C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library. See page 6.

The collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives provide a fascinating glimpse into the fight for women’s suffrage.

  • Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, 1916-1921: The Catt Papers represent TSLA’s principal collection of pro-suffrage materials. They contain correspondence (especially telegrams) from women’s clubs and national figures, newspaper clippings, and a major selection of political cartoons. Catt’s leadership was a key factor in Tennessee becoming “The Perfect 36,” the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment. Students of women’s history will find these papers essential for their studies. Microfilm 1077

  • Josephine A. Pearson Papers, 1860-1943: Pearson’s anti-suffrage papers provide balance to Catt’s. Miss Pearson, a Tennessee native, lobbied vigorously against the amendment that would give American women the right to vote. Miss Pearson’s leadership was critical to the cause, and the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment by only one vote. For the anti-suffrage point of view these papers are invaluable. Microfilm 1078

  • Bettie Mizell Donelson Papers, 1787-1938: The Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA) is well represented here with six volumes of scrapbooks. One volume deals with suffrage and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), causes in which Bettie was active. Two scrapbooks chronicle the assassination of Bettie’s husband, William Alexander Donelson, in 1900. The LHA items are of importance to those interested in the evolution of The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, as a national historic site. The suffrage-WCTU volumes will be of significance to anyone seeking to learn about women’s rights and Prohibition. Microfilm 804

  • Sadie Warner Frazer Papers, 1894-1974; and Addition, 1941-1986: This vast collection contains over 8,000 items related to a prominent Nashville family and its kin. For the researcher seeking information on late nineteenth and early twentieth century upper class society, these papers are a windfall. Sadie’s reminiscences are of special note. There is some interesting military history here as well, particularly involving the Second Armored Division, 1941-1945. Microfilm 1190

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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