On this date in 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the federal woman’s suffrage bill, meeting the three fourths majority required to pass the 19th Amendment. The bill had easily passed the Tennessee Senate, but had remained deadlocked in the State House of Representatives. Finally, young Harry Burn, whose own constituents were locked in debate and swelling in anti-suffrage ranks, changed his “nay” to an “aye,” creating uproar in the room. Another representative, a staunch anti-suffragist, changed his vote as well so that he could propose voting again, but nothing would change—suffrage passed.
Representative Burn received a lot of criticism for his vote, but defended his decision, stating that he believed in the right of suffrage. He also paid homage to his mother and her advice. In fact, she had written to him, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt.” Burn also noted, “I desired that my party in both State and nation might say that it was a Republican from the East mountains of Tennessee … who made national woman suffrage possible at this date, not for personal glory but for the glory of his party.”
The passage of the 19th Amendment had been a long, arduous fight for suffragists nation-wide, who had been urging state legislatures for more than a year to pass the amendment before the next presidential election.
Of course, the fight for women’s suffrage began much earlier. Women in North Dakota alone had sought suffrage a multitude of times since 1868. Their path consisted of many defeats with some victories. By 1917, partial suffrage had been granted in the state: women could vote for presidential electors and certain offices in municipal elections. Because of this, North Dakota women had joined a select, elite group of women who would be able to vote for the next president, even if the 19th Amendment had not passed.
Following this momentous day, the Bismarck Tribune issued a pro-suffrage statement, noting that women would not “permit socialism to reign,” or tolerate any perceived inequalities or unfairness in matters of government: “Equal suffrage is welcomed by all good citizens in North Dakota. … Thirty-six states have spoken. …No power now can keep long from women that which they have fought for and earned.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Bismarck Tribune, August 18, 1920, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, August 19, 1920, p2
1917 Laws of North Dakota