Chatting in Chattanooga

  • JD Harper

Thanks To a Pushy Mom From Tennessee, American Women Enjoy the Right to Vote

As a woman who has never known what it feels like not to have the right to vote, I like to take the time each election cycle and do a little time travel to the past through the eyes of history to the time of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and remember those who were willing to work tirelessly to make a difference. It was an arduous fight, often not pretty and took over 50 years to be successful.

The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which states, “the right of citizens of the US to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the US or state on account of sex,” was passed on August 18, 1920. Tennessee cast the necessary 36th ratifying vote, but only after a lengthy debate that could have had the final vote go the other way.

The measure for ratifying the 19th Amendment sailed through the Tennessee Senate, but it stalled in the House of Representatives at a vote of 48-48. Were it not for a young legislator from McMinn County in East Tennessee by the name of Henry Burns, I may not be voting in the election this Tuesday. You see Henry Burns was a 24 year old white male who had been in the legislature two years when the vote to ratify the 19th Amendment came calling.

Burns and his colleagues were firmly against ratification and wore red flowers on their lapels to demonstrate their stance on the issue in the weeks of intense lobbying leading up to the vote. Pro-suffragists wearing yellow flowers in support of the 19th Amendment descended upon Nashville but felt the final roll call would only end in a deadlock again, and the amendment would fail.

On the morning of the final vote, Burns received a letter from his mother, Mrs. Phoebe Ensminger Burns, telling him to be a “good boy and help Mrs. Catt (Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, a great suffragist leader) put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Quickly voting yes on the House floor, Burns single handedly extended the right to vote to the women of America and ended the decades long campaign by generations of suffragists including Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Burns, Alice Paul and the infamous, Mrs. Catt. In his speech the next day defending his reversal of vote, Burns made no secret of the influence of his mother saying, “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”

So moms, the next time your child accuses you of being pushy, tell them the story of Mrs. Burns from East Tennessee, one pushy mom who made a difference!

And speaking of making a difference, so can you, but only if you get out and VOTE!!!

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