On August 26, 2020, American women celebrated the 100th anniversary of the final certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, granting women the right to vote. Not for all women...but more on that later.
For a change to the Constitution to take place, three-fourths of the states must ratify the change within a deadline. This is a vote of the elected leaders of the state. The state to take ratification over the top was Tennessee. Suffragists were running out of time, and while only one more state was needed for ratification, all the southern states were vehemently opposed. Tennessee was, in fact, deeply divided over the issue, but the state was the only one left with any room for discussion remaining. The issue was hotly debated in the Tennessee capital building.
That is where the story of a mother's influence over her son made all the difference! On the morning of the vote, August 18th, 23-year-old Representative Harry T. Burn, a Republican from McMinn County, received a letter from his mother. She told him she had read in the press that he was slated to vote against the amendment, and she wrote "Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt." (Carrie Chapman Catt was leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association.)
Pandemonium broke out in the state house when Burn cast his "yea" vote that broke the tie to give the 19th Amendment its full ratification. Certification followed on August 26, bringing the 19th Amendment into law. Just 10 weeks later, more than 8 million women across the country voted for the first time on November 2, 1920. From 1848, when the Seneca Falls Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott until that first election day, 72 years of battle endured.
In the end, the founders of the movement were no longer alive to see their success, and those who brought it to victory were not yet born when Susan B. Anthony began her fight more than 80 years earlier. The 19th Amendment reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
And yet, there were those women who remained disenfranchised. Although Frederick Douglass gave the keynote address at Seneca Falls, and former slaves were in attendance, most black women were held back from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Ladies, our vote was hard won. Lesson? Without your vote you have no voice. VOTE in 2020!
Written by Lois Bauccio