Friday, April 22, 2016

Camden Woman Was a Pioneer in Women's Voting Rights Movement

Women's Suffrage Ratification in the Tennessee Senate Chamber, 1920. Library Collection.

One of the prouder moments in Tennessee history came during 1920, when the state's legislators voted for the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Tennessee was the 36th state to approve universal voting rights for women, giving the measure the three-fourths majority needed to officially make the amendment part of federal law.

However, the first woman to cast a ballot in Tennessee actually did so the year before the federal amendment had been approved.

This May 7, 1975 edition of the Camden Chronicle featured this article about Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson. Library & Archives Collection.

Women across the country had been fighting for their right to vote for decades, dating back to the 19th Century. In Tennessee, they achieved a breakthrough when legislators passed a "limited suffrage" bill on April 5, 1919. This amendment gave women the right to vote in local and state elections, but not federal elections.

Governor Albert H. Roberts signed the bill into law on April 17, 1919, just three days before a city election was scheduled in Camden.

On April 22, 1919, a 68-year-old Benton County native named Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson cast her ballot in that election for A.V. Bowls, who ultimately won the mayor's race.

An article in The Camden Chronicle described Hudson as "one who is unafraid to stand up and to speak out for that which she conceives to be the best, should not fear, as in this case, but rather choose to come out bravely for suffrage. The election is not alone a victory for suffrage and for women everywhere. Recognition is due this 'first voter' in the great cause."

Another image from the April 30, 1975 edition of the Camden Chronicle featuring a story about Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson. Library & Archives Collection.

Bowls also seemed to be mindful of his place in history. He was quoted in The Nashville Banner as being "puffed up" about being the first man in Tennessee to have been elected when women were allowed to participate.

Sadly, Hudson was never able to vote in a federal election. She died Oct. 1, 1920, before the first presidential election held after the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was buried in the Camden City Cemetery.

To learn more about the effort to give women the right to vote in Tennessee, please visit:

You may also find helpful historical references in our collection of women's papers:

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

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