Tullahoma residents came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.
On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state to ratify the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.
In celebration of the anniversary, the GFWC Centennial Woman’s Club invited Tullahoma residents to the patio of South Jackson Civic Center for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Celebration to not only celebrate women’s right to vote but to learn of Tennessee’s role in the historic decision.
Beginning the event was Mayor-elect Ray Knowis, who welcomed everyone to the event and gave the city’s proclamation. Outgoing Mayor Lane Curlee was not able to attend the event.
In the proclamation, Knowis went over the timeline that led to the ratification of the 19th amendment and how Tennessee was the 36th and last state to do so. He finished with the proclamation and by encouraging the citizens of Tullahoma to partake in events and activities to commemorate the anniversary.
GWFC Centennial Womarn's Club member Mary Anne Scott then introduced the guest speaker, Dr. Nancy Schurr, to talk about Tennessee’s involvement in the ratification and the journey it took to do so. Schurr is an associate professor of history at Chattanooga State Community College.
Schurr spoke about the significance of the phrase “the perfect 36” as Tennessee was the 36th and last state to ratify the amendment. In order to make a constitutional change there needs to be a three-quarters vote from the states.
Schurr pointed out how it took 72 years from the founding of the United States to the first women’s suffrage conference, the Seneca Falls Convention, in 1848 to talk about women’s suffrage. She added it took another 72 years from the conference to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She then let the audience know that half of 72 was 36, tying in the connection to Tennessee being “the perfect 36th” state.
“Crazy. I thought I wasn’t a math person,” Schurr joked.
Schurr then focused on the history of women’s suffrage in Tennessee. She mentioned a group of suffragists that came together to form a local league in Tullahoma in 1915 while pointing out that many of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement were a part of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Schurr asked the audience why women would want the right to vote. Some answers include protecting children, property rights and wanting a say in the government.
“We are taxed without being represented. Hello America Revolution, ‘no taxation without representation’,” Schurr said.
She mentioned the anti-suffrage league, those against women’s suffrage, including a Monteagle woman named Josephine Pearson, who led the Tennessee league.
Schurr read a letter written by Pearson where she explains her reasons against women’s suffrage and that they were based on religious reasons and viewed voting as a moral issue. Schurr said one of the other reasons for anti-suffragists was that women voting could lead to the downfall of white superiority.
She read some opinions and quotes by male anti-suffragists which included, “A vote for federal suffrage is a vote for organized female nagging forever,” and “It would masculinize women and feminize men.”
Schurr finished her presentation by talking about the day of Aug. 20, 1920 at the Tennessee state legislature. She explained anyone with a yellow rose pinned on them meant they were in favor of women’s right to vote with a red rose was the opposite meaning.
Schurr talked about how the amendment passed in the Tennessee state legislature thanks to Harry T. Burn. Burn, nicknamed “Baby Burn” because he was 24 years old at the time and had “a baby face," was a supporter of women’s suffrage but wore a red rose, as it was election season and he was trying to represent what his district wanted. When it came time to vote, the vote ended with a tie, so they had to vote again.
During the second vote, Burn read a letter from his mother Febb Burn who told him to do what mom said.
“Hurrah and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” Febb Burn wrote. “Helped Ms. Cat put the rat in ratification.”
When his name was called, Burn voted “Aye” and chaos ensued. Schurr said antis were throwing things at Burn while supporters celebrated. Schurr said legend goes that Burn had to escape by jumping out of the window. Burn would later be re-elected, with his mother being able to vote at the age of 47.
The Tullahoma event ended with Girl Scout Troop 2163 leader Greg Gressel announcing his troop would be going to both Oakwood and Hickerson cemeteries to lay wreaths for suffragists in Tullahoma and encouraged anyone to follow them for the small ceremonies. Girl Scout Gracie Basham talked about Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Lowe and her involvement with helping in women’s suffrage as well as reciting a line from the poem “We as Women” by suffrage writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman to end the celebration.
“The world needs strength and courage, and wisdom to help and feed–when, we, as women bring these to man, we shall lift the world indeed.”
Kyle Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.