National suffrage wins, Tennessee ratifies bill

Tennessee Gov. Albert Roberts (seated) signs the state ratification of the 19th amendment in August 1920.

This story originally ran in the Aug. 19, 1920, Lewiston Tribune.


Nashville, Tenn., Aug. 18. — The amendment extending equal suffrage to American women was ratified today for inclusion in the federal constitution, the Tennessee house voting 50 to 46 to concur in the senate resolution adopted Friday, 25 to 4.

The lineup follows:

Democrats, aye 35, no 34, absent one.

Republicans, aye 15, no 12, absent 2.

The action made Tennessee the thirty-sixth state to approve the amendment which lacked tonight only formal certification by Secretary of State Colby to complete its acceptance.

There is still a possibility that the house may rescind its action. At the last moment Speaker Walker, anti-suffrage leader, changed his vote from “nay” to “aye,” paving the way for a motion to reconsider. Under house rules he can present such a motion within the next two legislative days.

Should today’s vote be confirmed or the house fail to take further action before adjournment Friday, millions of women will be free to vote in the presidential election. Only successful litigation contesting the legal right of this legislature to rally the adment could prevent them.

Steps for such a test of the provision of the Tennessee constitution involved already have been taken by the Tennessee constitutional league.

Ninety-six of the 99 members of the house were present today and the alignment, until a vote on concurrence was taken, was a tie, each faction polling 48 votes on a motion by Mr. Walker to table the resolution. On the ballot for concurrence the line up was 49 to 47 until the speaker changed his vote. This apparently would give the suffragists an advantage of only 2 votes, but their leaders declared tonight that members in favor of suffrage who were absent today, would arrive probably tomorrow.

The motion to reconsider may be carried by a majority vote of the members present and since Mr. Walker can act without a moment’s notice, suffragists planned to be on hand in full force the next two days.

Suffrage leaders said they expected no defections, but as a precaution were tightening their lines tonight, while opposition leaders were waging an active campaign to increase their strength.

The end came suddenly. Debate on the motion to concur had been in progress little more than an hour and there was no indication a vote was imminent when Speaker Walker called Representative Overton to the chair and took the floor to reply to a suffragist who had charged special interests were at work to defeat ratification.

“The battle has been won and the measure has been defeated,” Mr. Walker said. “I resent the iniquitous remarks that special interests are here alone against this measure. I resent this on behalf of the womanhood that is both for and against suffrage.

“I move that this measure go where it belongs, to the table.”

Mr. Overton, however, refused to recognize anyone and ordered the roll called. The result was in doubt on unofficial tallies. An appeal to the clerk developed that his tally showed a tie, 48 to 48.

Mr. Overton ordered a second roll call, which showed a tie of 48 to 48 and the speaker declared the motion lost for want of a majority.

Instantly anti-suffragists demanded a vote on the original motion to concur in the senate action. When the speaker put the motion hundreds of suffragists recorded the battle lost.

The vote at the outset was on partisan line, but when the name of Representative Harry T. Burn, republican, was called, he voted “aye.” The opposition then virtually conceded defeat, for Mr. Burn had voted with them to table the resolution and his change gave suffragists the needed majority.

The stand of other members was unchanged until the name of Representative B. P. Turner, democrat, was reached and he passed. Instantly there was a shout of satisfaction from the antis. He had voted against the motion to table and his failure to vote again balanced opposing forces, but just before the end of the roll call, he requested the clerk to record him as voting “aye.”

Mr. Turner had said repeatedly he would neither vote for nor against ratification unless it was evident his vote was needed, but in that event he would vote for the amendment. The suffragists launched an uproarious demonstration.

A motion to adjourn until 10 a.m. tomorrow was offered and carried unanimously.

Basis of Legal Contest.

The intention to attack the legality of ratification if the house failed to rescind its action was discussed tonight. The clause of the Tennessee constitution on which would be based the test, is article 2, section 32. It follows:

“No convention or general assembly shall act on any amendment of the constitution of the United States proposed by congress to the several states unless such convention, or general assembly shall have been elected after such amendment is submitted.”

The present legislature was elected in November, 1918, and the suffrage amendment was not submitted until months afterward.

The article was adopted in 1870, as a result of the ratification by the legislature of the fourteenth amendment after the civil war. Citizens of Tennessee were not represented in that legislature, it is said.

The supreme court of the United States, in deciding a case originating in Ohio, held void a clause in the constitution of that state relating to referendums on amendments. Based on opinions by W. L. Frierson, solicitor general of the United States and State Attorney General Thompson, Governor Roberts called the legislature in extra session to act on suffrage, declaring he had been assured the supreme court’s ruling in the Ohio case served to nullify the article in the Tennessee constitution.

Suffrage opponents in Tennessee held that the two cases were not parallel.

Story of 300 Years Struggle.

Ratification of the suffrage amendment ends a struggle which began in the country before the colonies declared their independence. It will eventually enfranchise 25,000,000 women.

Woman suffrage first raised its voice in America in Maryland in 1647, when Mistress Margaret Brent, heir of Lord Calvert, demanded a place in the legislature of the colony as a property holder of wide extent. And in the days of the revolution Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John Adams, at the continental congress which was framing the laws of the infant nation that, “if — in the laws particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourself bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice.”

Organized work for woman suffrage began in the United States with the woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, and which was called by’ Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, early leaders of Massachusetts and New York, in response to the indignation aroused by the refusal to permit women to take part in the anti-slavery convention of 1840. From the date of that convention the suffrage movement in the United States began the fight that lasted 70 years and ended with victory. Another convention followed in 1852 at Syracuse, N.Y., at which delegates from Canada were present and it was there that Susan B. Anthony assumed leadership of the cause of which she devoted her life.

Drafting 19th Amendment.

The 19th amendment, which bears her name, was drafted by Miss Anthony in 1875 and was first introduced in congress in 1878 by Senator A.A. Sargent of California; and it is in the same language that the new principle of the national law reads:

Article — Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article.”

The amendment holds the record of being before the country longer than any other successful amendment to the constitution. It was introduced as the sixteenth amendment and has been successively the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth, and has been before every session of congress since its initial appearance.

During the first 35 years after its introduction into congress the amendment made practically no progress and until seven years ago it had not been debated on the floor for 30 years. But the campaign for the movement won ground in the states.

Meantime Miss Anthony made a test of the right of women to cast the ballot by going to the polls and voting. She was arrested and convicted and, though she refused to pay her fine, was never jailed. She became, however the forerunner of the “militants” who adopted the forceful tactics of the latter days of the campaign.

State after state gradually enfranchised its women citizens. Beginning with Wyoming in 1869, by 1919 sixteen states had given women the right to vote, and fourteen states had presidential suffrage previous to ratification of the amendment.

Promptly with the passage of the amendment by the congress the suffrage forces turned their attention to ratification by the necessary two-thirds of the states. More special sessions of the state legislatures were called to act upon the 19th than upon any other amendment.

Wisconsin and Michigan on June 10 were the first states to ratify, quickly followed on June 16 by New York, Kansas and Ohio.

Other states ratified in the following order: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, California, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Oregon, Indiana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Full suffrage is enjoyed today by the women of 21 foreign countries, including the new states of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland and the ancient nations of England, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

Recommended for you