Friday, August 21, 2020

A Mother's Advice

Alice Paul unfurling the ratification banner with its new 36th star after Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920.

Earlier this week, Kym told us about a good reason to celebrate and loads of great information about women's suffrage; I'd like to share an interesting story about the ratification of the 19th Amendment. I heard this on NPR and it was a compelling driveway moment for me. 

After the women's suffrage movement was launched in 1848, suffragists fought long and hard, marching, picketing, being arrested, imprisoned, and staging hunger strikes for over seven decades. Congress had finally passed the amendment in June of 1919 and 35 states had ratified it. In August of 1920, just one more state was needed, and Tennesse was the best hope. 

There was plenty of resistance, racial arguments, lobbying, fistfights, and dirty tricks. In the Jack Daniel's Suite at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, liquor was served (despite Prohibition) to get legislators drunk and make sure they voted against suffrage.  

Women were out in force trying to convince legislators to join their side, and when they did they pinned a yellow rose to his jacket. Those against wore red roses so it was clear how people were going to vote. 

Harry T. Burn

One of those people was 24-year-old Harry Burn, a freshman delegate to the Tennessee House of Representatives. He walked into the Capitol with a red rose on his lapel and voted to table the amendment (kill it by not voting on it) twice that day, with the votes ending in a 48-48 tie. But then the moment of truth arrived, a vote on whether to ratify the amendment itself. When Harry Burn was called he voted, "Aye". The tie was broken and the 19th Amendment was ratified. 

The envelope that contained the letter from Harry Burn's mother, Febb

Harry Burn had received a letter from his mother, Febb, a strong woman who ran the family farm and was a strong supporter of suffrage. She thought that her son might need a little nudge so she wrote to him, "Hurrah and vote for suffrage and don't keep them in doubt."

Burn told his fellow delegates, "I knew that a mother's advice is always safest for a boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification." Years later he said, "I think it was morally right. I thought it then; I still think it." I love this story and the fact that a young son did the right thing and listened to his mother (as all sons should :-)). You can read the whole exciting piece here or in the book The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss 

One hundred years after women won the right to vote they are underrepresented in politics, our basic rights still seem to be debated by men, and females are labeled as "Nasty" if they dare to express opinions. The president pardoned Susan B. Anthony on Tuesday for the crime of casting a ballot, but during the same event he continued to undermine the voting rights of millions of Americans. I know I don't need to say this to any of you reading this, but please make sure you vote on November 3rd (or whenever you return your mail-in ballot) like our lives and democracy depend on it because they do. 


  1. I have heard this same story on NPR (twice, I think!) and still love it. The stories from the effort for women's suffrage have always stuck with me, and I think of all the women who couldn't vote every time I cast a ballot. This year, I'll also be thinking of all the other Americans whose votes have been repeatedly suppressed. I fully believe that as an American, there is no greater privilege or responsibility than voting. We have to keep fighting to make sure that every American has that privilege and that responsibility.

  2. What a great story Bonny. I had not heard this, but it is wonderful. Fletch and I have applied for our mail in ballots and, fortunately, we have a place nearby where we can drop them off rather than mail them in.

  3. I watched a program on suffrage on PBS recently, and it was fascinating. I was actually offended by Trump's "pardon" of Susan B. Just another stunt of his, and I doubt most women think her star shines any brighter because of it. Vote, VOTE, VOTE!!!

  4. You bet I'll be voting! Thank-you for sharing that great story! I can never understand folks that choose not to vote. Makes no sense to me!

  5. I loved this story on NPR and thank you for sharing it again! (YES, all son's should absolutely listen to their mothers... and I am thankful that so many do!) I did not know that it took 7 decades... it is shocking to me. I also did not know that Native Americans did not get the vote until 1962 (a tidbit I learned last night) We have so much further to go, but it is helpful to see that even if I think things are slow, we have come so very far!

  6. It is SUCH a great story! (And . . . it's depicted in the Lady Gaga "Bad Romance" video I shared this week.) XO

  7. That's a great story! and I will be voting a couple days after our polls open (early - should be late October) ... not gonna chance the mail this time!

  8. What a wonderful story! If only all children listened so well !

    1. I thought about what my sons might have done under the same circumstances and I like to think they would have voted yes!

  9. Oh yes I will be voting for sure. I am also participating in Vote Forward - a letter writing campaign to encourage voters to vote. The Woman's Hour is a great audio listen. So interesting because the older my son gets, the more I hear him echo things we discussed when he was younger. Sometimes I wondered if he was ever listening but now I know he was.


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