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Join the Final Drive To Suffrage


On June 4, 1919, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment came before the Senate. It was the fifth time that the proposal — first introduced in 1878, and already approved by the House of Representatives — had been put to senators; four months earlier, it had fallen short by just one vote. But on this day, the federal lawmakers voted 56 to 25, to pass the law, amend the constitution and establish women’s right to vote in the United States.

The passage of the 19th Amendment was a huge victory for the suffrage movement, the culmination of activism spanning nearly a century as women fought for a voice in the political system. But their work was unfinished. After Congress, the amendment moved to the 48 state legislatures, three-quarters of whom had to ratify it for it to become law. The race to 36 was on.

A flurry of early victories kicked off the summer of 1919, starting with Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin on June 10. But on July 24, in Georgia, the amendment met its first defeat. Alabama rejected the law that September; in the early days of 1920, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Mississippi did the same. (Mississippi would eventually be the last state to ratify the amendment — in 1984.)

By the summer of 1920, 35 states had voted to approve the amendment, and six had voted no. The nation waited on tenterhooks to see who might push the law over the finish line. Delaware rejected it in June. In July, Louisiana followed suit.

The campaign for women’s suffrage had been largely stymied in the South, so Tennessee was a somewhat unlikely contender to provide the amendment with the deciding vote. But the state had passed a limited suffrage measure in 1919, and its senate had already voted for the amendment, so in August all eyes turned to Tennessee. Suffragists including the NAWSA’s president, Carrie Chapman Catt, descended on Nashville, as did anti-suffragist factions. Both groups set up camp at the Hermitage Hotel, which was thronged by people wearing roses on their lapels: yellow for pro-suffrage, red for against.

On Aug. 18, 1920, state representatives started to vote. The margin was razor-thin. Then, it was Harry T. Burn’s turn.



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