Tennessee pride

League of Women Voters gives history of women and vote

(Editor’s note: The Blount County League of Women Voters are entering their third year in Blount County in 2007. They are looking for a year of growth as they push to help educate the people of the county on the importance of being involved in the political process and the importance of the vote.

Blount Today will publish an article written by a league member each month in a effort to help them convey their message.)

Submitted by League of Women Voters

Many of you may have seen the League of Women Voter’s candidate surveys or attended one of the candidate forums held by the League during our recent county elections. Some of you may have had some questions about the Blount County League.

Who are we? We are a group of men and women - yes, membership is open to men of voting age. We are a non-partisan group - our membership includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who manage to work together harmoniously toward a common goal:

As a nonpartisan group of women and men, we seek to organize and foster open conversation, education and voter registration. It is our aim to encourage people to engage fully in the political process.

With that intention, we appreciate the opportunity to periodically share information about the current and historical political process, including the origin of the League of Women Voters.

Young women today often take for granted their right to vote and to participate in our democratic process - but it wasn’t always that way. The Declaration of Independence may have been signed in 1776, and the U.S. Constitution may have taken effect in 1789, but the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote wasn’t ratified for well over a century, on August 18, 1920.

Many people don’t know that Tennessee played a major role in this ratification. Once Congress passed the 19th amendment, 36 states had to ratify it before it could become law. Several states - including Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Delaware, and Louisiana - actually rejected it.

Finally, by the summer of 1920, 35 states had ratified the 19th amendment. There was a sense of urgency. If the amendment passed in time, women would be able to vote in fall elections. After the Delaware legislature rejected the amendment in June, it became necessary to persuade the Governor of Tennessee to call a special session.

This wouldn’t be easy, according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:

Governor Albert H. Roberts had spoken against woman suffrage during his campaign two years earlier. He belonged to the antiprohibition wing of the Democratic Party, and his closest advisers opposed votes for women. He feared that women would vote against him because of his opposition to women’s rights and prohibition and because of persistent rumors about his relationship with his highly-paid female personal secretary. Roberts faced a tough race for reelection in 1920, and he knew that woman suffrage might bring about his downfall.

Finally, however, the Governor was persuaded, and he agreed to convene the General Assembly on Aug. 9, 1920, just after the Aug. 5 primary. Reporters descended on Nashville, along with observers on both sides of the suffrage issue. Those in favor of giving women the right to vote wore yellow roses; those against wore red.

The first vote ended in a tie; so did the second vote. Finally, a third vote - and Representative Harry Burn of Niota, wearing a red rose, changed his vote to an "aye."

It seems that he had received a letter from his mother, who told him to do the right thing and vote in favor of the amendment, saying, "Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against.

They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the "rat" in ratification."

After reading the letter this young man, who at age 24 was the youngest member of the legislature, followed his mother’s recommendation and made history. As a result, Tennessee became "the perfect 36" - the last state to ratify the 19th
amendment!

The League of Women voters came out of that historic time, founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Since then it has grown into a large grassroots organization, with close to 1,000 state and local Leagues in communities across the country.

The Blount County branch started in 2005 as an "at large" group and has already reached the membership level needed to apply for status as a local chapter. Our meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month, normally in room 433 of the old Courthouse.

And, above all, remember the wisdom of Mrs. Febb Ensminger Burn - and do the right thing! Take advantage of your right as a citizen, and vote for the candidates of your choice at every election. Remember just one vote can change history!
Get involved in the community. Become informed about the issues that affect us all. Attend public meetings. Hold our elected officials accountable. Get involved!

© 2007 blounttoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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