Lunch and Learn women's suffrage

Mary Anne Scott tells attendees about the fight for women’s voting rights and how a special woman named Sara William Knott Ransom contributed to the effort.

Lunch and Learn attendees were given a glance of the Volunteer State’s role played in securing suffrage for women a century ago.

Tullahoma Parks and Recreation held its Lunch and Learn June 25 with the month’s program being “Women’s Suffrage and Tullahoma’s Role in the Cause.”

The featured speaker was Mary Anne Scott, a Bedford County native and Tullahoma resident. According to Parks and Recreation Program Manager Lyle Russell, the program was originally scheduled to for the Lunch and Learn in March 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are here, over a year later, to finally present this program,” Russell said.

In the program, Scott spoke to attendees as Sara William “Will” Knott Ransom, a Tullahoma native who served as the first president of the Tullahoma Equal Suffrage League and the vice president state-at-large of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage League.

Speaking as Ransom, Scott talked about the journey of women during the time period as they fought for the right to vote, as well as giving the background about what life was like as they wanted to voice their rights. She read several statements from prominent figures of the women’s suffrage movement from Tennessee like Ann Dallas Dudley of Nashville, Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga and Sue Shelton White of Jackson.

Scott went on talk about how the suffragettes would create and wear ribbons, pins and trinkets that were colored purple for honor, white for purity and gold and yellow for hope as a visual image for wanting the right to vote.

“We’re not those devilish Amazons trying to destroy gender hierarchies, that’s what our critics claim,” Scott said as Ransom. “We’re beautiful women who are trying to bring civility to politics and cleanse the corruption that’s a part of that system.”

Scott went on to talk about the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., which garnered the attention of everyone at the time. She then talked about the creation of a grassroots organization in Tennessee where in 1915 the members of the executive board of the Women’s Equal Suffrage League to meet in Tullahoma to make decisions and work on campaign strategies.

“Tullahoma has always been forward looking community and when we set it to a task we are all there,” Scott said. 

She added when the organization was created there were over 20 people were ready to sign up as members, and Ransom was elected as the president of the Tullahoma Equal Suffrage League, where later on she became the vice president State-at-Large of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage League.

“Being a part of that allows us to have an impact to convince our community to support suffrage,” Scott said.

Scott proceeded to talk about the organization’s activities for the next couple of years as it worked to secure women’s right to vote.  Then she discussed the day of Aug. 20, 1920 at the state legislature where state representatives were preparing to vote on if Tennessee would become the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which would give women the right to vote. She mentioned that representatives who were supporters wore a pinned yellow rose and those against wore red roses.

She talked about the week of the vote and how everyone spoke about why or why not to ratify. When it came time to vote, state representative Harry T. Burn was deciding how to vote on the 19th amendment and was thought to be against passage. Scott said before the second vote, Burn read a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, told him to do what mom said. After reading the letter, he voted “Yes” on the amendment, causing it to pass.

“On Aug. 24, Gov. Roberts signed the ratification of the resolution,” Scott said.

She said in the Tullahoma municipal election on Aug. 17, 1920, women voted as heavy as the men. She added that Tullahoma was for ratification of the amendment, yet State House Representative W.C. Thronesbury voted against after saying he was for it. Scott said a petition was sent immediately to Thronesbury asking to respectfully represent his constituents.

“Now we have so much to look forward to,” Scott said.

After the presentation, Scott talked to attendees about the presentation and the movement where she said last year was the centennial of the 19th amendment and both the Tullahoma chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the GFWC Centennial Woman’s Club wanted to do something unique to commemorate the anniversary. Scott said she researched and put together the story of Ransom. She added she was able to contact Ransom’s descendants who were able to provide photos.

“I think it is important to realize that Tullahoma did have a roll for women to get the right to vote,” Scott said.

During the discussion of the presentation, some of the attendees thanked Scott for her work in the community and educating people about Tullahoma’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement.

Anyone wanting to attend July’s Lunch and Learn are asked to reserve their seat by calling 455-1121. Cost is $9 per person. Lunch will be served at 11:45 a.m., followed by the program at noon. D.W. Wilson Community Center is located at 501 N. Collins St.