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NPT's Woman Suffrage in the South

When Tennessee legislator Harry T. Burn followed his mother’s advice and cast his fateful vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he ensured the state would forever be associated with bestowing the right to vote, a fundamental civil right, on U.S. women. But the short story of this vote belies the irony of this state and region’s late and reluctant participation in the suffrage effort. The full story of Burn’s vote and the Southern suffrage movement is one of compromises, abandoned ideals and promises broken; as well as deep racial and gender divisions in the struggle for political power. Tennessee’s suffrage journey is part of the long aftermath of the Civil War in which women were no longer satisfied to be spectators in political processes nor to be relegated to second-class citizenship.

By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South examines the tactics and attitudes of Tennessee and Southern suffragists, exploring how the shadow of the Confederacy and values of the “Lost Cause” shaped the fight for full female enfranchisement.Narrated by Rosanne Cash, NPT’s original documentary chronicles the events leading up to the turbulent, nail-biting showdown of August 1920.

Trailer | By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South

Documentary | By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South



+ Video Transcript

- [Wanda] Women's legal position was pretty much the same as the legal position of felons.

- [Mary] It's the need for freedom and rights and civic respect and place in society, women had to have that.

- [Marjorie] It was inevitable that race was going to play a major role in the suffrage movement. And national leaders, in order to achieve a national victory, had to have some Southern states.

- [Carole] It is not ladylike politics at all, this fight that is going to take place in the halls of the Tennessee state capital.

- [Elaine] It's this incredibly dramatic moment, and the future of American women is being decided right there.

- [Woman] Major funding for "By One Vote: "Woman Suffrage in the South" is provided by the Bethany Fund. Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. The Joe C. Davis Foundation in memory of Frances Bond Davis. The Shayne Foundation. Cathy and Martin Brown & The MSB Cockayne Fund. And by Carlene Lebous and Harris Haston. Additional support provided by First Tennessee Foundation. Anne and Charles Roos. Hannah Paramore Breen, Andrea Conte, Laurie Gold Eskind, and the following. And by members of NPT. Thank you.

- [Rosanne] On a blistering hot August day in 1920, Seth Walker, Speaker of the Tennessee State House, convened what he hoped would be the final day of a special session. For three weeks, the House had debated whether to ratify the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, granting women the right to vote. A vote in the House chamber was all that stood in the way of Tennessee becoming the 36th and final state needed to make the 19th Amendment the law of the land.

- When the legislature was called into session by Governor Roberts, most of us expected it to be a routine affair. Actually, we reached Nashville, we learned that what we thought was practically a state issue was a national issue, because as went Tennessee, so went the nation.

- The tension in the chamber is intense. The heat is intense. You have women in their long dresses drenched in perspiration and in anxiety. You have the visitors galleries, half of which are occupied by the suffrage supporters, half by the anti-suffrage supporters. Each fearful and anxious about what this roll call is going to bring.

- [Rosanne] Tucked behind the brass bar in the back of the chamber, Sue Shelton White of Jackson, Tennessee, stood ready with pencil and paper, ready to keep a tally of the votes.

- [Elaine] Sue White is part of that third generation of suffragist who are no longer willing to be so patient. They see their future in having a voice in their government, in having more equality in other social and political aspects of their lives, and they want it now.

- [Rosanne] In the balcony, amongst the press of suffragists, Anne Dallas Dudley of Nashville leaned into the rail, ready to defy her social upbringing and shout her approval or disapproval.

- Anne Dallas Dudley comes out of Nashville nobility. She's a mother, she is beautiful, and she counteracts all the stereotypes that the anti-suffragists have used for decades.

- [Rosanne] Across the chamber in the opposite balcony, Josephine Pearson of Monteagle, Tennessee led the antis as President of the Tennessee Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.

- And she seemed ideal. She seemed to be opposed to any rights for women, even though she herself was a single woman who had been an independent school teacher at one time.

- [Rosanne] As morning turned into afternoon, the heat rose in the chamber. The Speaker of the House pushed for the vote that he believed would be the defeat of the 19th Amendment.

- [Elaine] The men are exhausted, are frightened for their political future, it's this incredibly dramatic moment, and the future of American women is being decided right there.

- [Rosanne] After three weeks of open and sometimes furtive lobbying, political betrayals, illicit payoffs, and masterful legislative stalling tactics, the clerk began the roll call on the vote for or against the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

- [Clerk] Anderson.

- [Anderson] Aye.

- [Clerk] Bell.

- [Bell] Aye.

- [Clerk] Bond.

- [Bond] Nay.

- [Rosanne] The civic fate of millions of women across the US rested in the hands of the all-male Tennessee House of Representatives. To reach this point, American women had spent decades fighting through complex layers of social, political, and racial constraints. But nowhere were there greater challenges than in the South. And the roots of this battle went back even before the Civil War.

- [Elaine] The social fabric had been torn asunder by the Civil War and Reconstruction. And now here's another movement that promises to tear the fabric again.

- [Abby] The bulk of women didn't care anything about having the vote. And the Southern women particularly. And the Southern states did not support the suffrage movement. Tennessee was in the doubtful column.

- What was really ironic that the final battle over women's suffrage was gonna happen in a Southern state. After all, this was the region that was the most resistant, suffragists had fought hard but with little success. When people today are looking back on this, and they assumed that there was gonna be a victory at the end of this fight, they were assuming a lot.

- [Elna] The woman suffrage movement began in the northeast, and it was a direct offshoot of the anti-slavery movement. Nearly every woman who was involved in the early women's rights movement was involved in the anti-slavery movement.

- [Rosanne] Some of the first abolitionists to speak publicly about the rights of women were two sisters from Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, in the early 1800s.

- [Sarah] Men and women were created equal. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.

- They begin to bring that sensibility of Southern women into the suffrage movement, decades earlier than it really begins to coalesce as a movement in the Southern states.

- [Rosanne] Fighting slavery led the Grimkes and other female abolitionists to question the accepted cultural and legal norms controlling a woman's life.

- [Elaine] Her life was supposed to be centered on the domestic sphere, that's what it was called. That meant home and hearth and family, and nothing else.

- [Wanda] Women's legal position was pretty much the same as the legal position of felons.

- [Carole] Married women had no rights to own property, to serve in juries, they did not have rights to their own children if they got divorced.

- [Elna] Any income from any work that she did would be his, the clothing on her back would be his.

- [Adele] Prior to the Civil War, most African American women were enslaved in the American South. They therefore had no control whatsoever over their own bodies, over their lives, their families and children could be taken away from them at any time.

- [Linda] Women in general were basically relegated to a position of second class citizenship. But for black women, they wore a double burden. Not only did they have to face sexism, but they also had to face racism.

- [Marjorie] Most women knew that they couldn't support themselves long term, so they had to get married, and sometimes the pool was a little thin, so if she happened to marry someone who became a brutal drunk, she was stuck.

- [Rosanne] In rising frustration at the lack of power over their own lives, a small group organized a convention on the status of women in 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention concluded with the Declaration of Sentiments. It was modeled after the Declaration of Independence which declared all men are created equal. Despite the pleas of Abigail Adams to remember the ladies.

- [Woman] We these hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal. Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation.

- So they had a long list of things that they wanted to address, and the vote was just really only one of them. And at that time, asking for the vote was considered to be astonishingly radical.

- [Rosanne] The Seneca Falls convention sparked what grew into the main movement advocating for women's rights and woman suffrage. But most Southern women were not eager to join.

- The experiences that tended to create suffragism happened in the Northeast earlier than they happened in the South. Things like industrial development, the rise of women's voluntary associations, college education, those things happened earlier in the Northeast, and so Southern women had a generation of difference in the opportunity to experience some of those things.

- The Civil War was in some ways a crisis of gender, in that when the Civil War came and the males of a household left, the women were left, particularly in rural areas, as much of Tennessee was, women in Tennessee were left on their own to fend for themselves.

- [Rosanne] Many white women entered the public sphere by necessity, managing farms alone or becoming teachers, nurses, factory workers. At the end of the war, the South also had to contend with the social and economic upheaval of emancipation.

- [Marjorie] Reconstruction was this critical point in American history, and which Americans were reconsidering and redefining what it meant to be a citizen. And the debate centered on the 14th and 15th Amendment. Black men were given citizenship and the right to vote, but women were left out. And that ended up causing a big rift among suffragist. And the women who had fought really hard to bring slavery to an end really felt betrayed.

- White Republicans very much wanted black men, who would have allegiance to the Republican Party, to have the vote. Including women, women of any race, and the 15th Amendment was definitely too controversial and was quite clear that including women would have guaranteed its failure.

- When you ask for woman suffrage as opposed to manhood suffrage, you're asking for two major developments to happen at the same time. You're asking on the one hand, for a different way that Americans view African American men. They are no longer property. They are now your fellow citizens with all the same rights that you have, so that's a big thing. Americans can't really focus on two big changes. Or very simply, they don't want to focus on these two big changes to American society - [Rosanne] By the 1870s and 80s, a growing number of unusually bold white Southern women began advocating for women's rights. Within 20 years, their impassioned pleas convinced national leaders to look south.

- In the 1890s, white Southern Democrats were trying to regain political power. They were trying to keep black men from voting or to counter its effect. And Southern and Northern suffragists saw an opportunity in this, and they developed sort of a Southern strategy. Ironically, they borrowed some of their ideas from Henry Blackwell, a northern abolitionist, who said, "You can accomplish your goal "not by disfranchising black men, "but giving the vote to women."

- [Henry] Your 4 millions of Southern white women will counterbalance your 4 millions of negro men and women, and thus the political supremacy of your white race will remain unchanged.

- [Marjorie] They sent professional recruiters into the area. Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt went on major speaking tours throughout the region. And everywhere, spreading this message.

- When those two suffrage leaders came to Memphis, they of course spoke in very racialized settings. There's no record of exactly what they said to the black women, but you can just understand it's gonna be a little different from what they're saying to the white women. But the thing is, there's an understanding that maybe we need to address suffrage as an issue that can be pushed by women in both communities.

- It was inevitable that race was going to play a major role in the suffrage movement. And national leaders in order to achieve a national victory had to have some Southern states, and Southern suffragists were working for the vote in the midst of a regional movement to restore white political supremacy.

- [Rosanne] 25 years after losing the battle to include women in the 15th Amendment, national suffrage leaders discouraged that arguments based on justice were falling on deaf ears were willing to resort to political expediency. This moral compromise came into stark relief at their conventions held in the South.

- In an attempt to woo white Southerners to their cause, because they needed to have a national constituency, leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association decided to hold conventions in the South. They did, however, accept the idea of segregation. They also at the same time were sort of surreptitiously wooing black women, so they were playing both sides of the game at this point, trying to attract black women, but to do it surreptitiously so that they would not offend white people.

- [Marjorie] At about the turn of the century. State legislators throughout the South found other means of preventing African American men from voting, such as poll taxes and understanding clauses, all assisted by rulings from the Supreme Court.

- When the laws did not work well enough, they turned to physical intimidation, and those impacted black women as well, and the more active and high profile a black woman was, the more likely she was to be subject to such intimidation. After that, that whole Southern strategy was exposed as ineffective, and the movement more or less went dormant in the South until the last decade of the suffrage movement.

- [Rosanne] The social and economic upheaval of the Civil War had provided the impetus for building a Southern suffrage movement, as it thrust women into the public sphere. In the face of great need, they defied convention and threw themselves into rebuilding their families, their lives, and their communities.

- In the aftermath of the Civil War, you see women joining together and creating organizations on a local level that are capable of working together to build institutions like churches, like schools.

- When you look at organizations within the black church, with any church, women are the doers. They are the organizers. So they took those skills that they had in the church, they honed it in the community, they knew how to galvanize people.

- Church groups are providing a mechanism for women to start gathering, and that becomes more politicized and moves more into civic work and public work as women defined their roles in society as taking on problems in the community that need attention, and it is cumulative from there on.

- [Rosanne] In 1885, a young widow, Lizzie Crozier French, chafed at the limited life women lead in her conservative hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Suffrage would have been too radical an issue for most women in her community. To start broadening their minds, French founded the Ossoli Circle as a women's book club.

- The club was very successful, but after a certain period of time, she got sort of bored with them discussing things that were sort of ancient questions, and so she is reported to have stood up in the middle of one of the meetings and said, "Ladies, Dante is dead."

- [Lizzie] Now let's move on with things that can help the people now.

- [Wanda] And so she tried to change it more into a social action group.

- [Rosanne] The Ossoli Circle grew to be a powerful force for women's reform efforts in Knoxville. Throughout the segregated South, African American women's clubs also thrived.

- There were hundreds of African American women's clubs that had thousands of members throughout the South. They did differ slightly from the white women's clubs in that they were all very serious, they didn't seem to engage very much in trivial pursuits. Rather, they stuck to issues of education, reform, and political empowerment.

- [Rosanne] By the late 1800s, the Women's Christian Temperance Union had become one of the most popular organizations in the South, moving well beyond its initial mandate of prohibition.

- The WCTU allowed women to organize and act upon a variety of subjects, whether it's schools or public life, politics, all the time creating activities that allowed women to learn how to run a meeting, learn how to raise money, learn how to talk to politicians.

- [Belle] The Women's Christian Temperance Union was the golden key that unlocked the prison doors of pent up possibilities. It was the generous liberator, the joyous iconoclast, the discoverer, the developer of Southern women.

- As they moved into the public sphere, these women were interested in reforming things like working conditions and child labor. And incredibly, to raise the age of consent, which in some Southern states was as low as 10 years old. They began to see that the power they lacked in making these suggestions was the ballot box. They could come to the state capitol and talk to the lawmakers here, but until they could vote for those law makers, they had no power.

- [Abby] The men didn't want us to vote. They didn't want to be interfered with in their little setups in politics.

- From post-Civil War church groups to temperance action to community civic groups, women are claiming their space in society, and there was no repressing that or holding it back, it's the need for freedom and rights and civic respect and place in society, women had to have that. The vote for women was the logical outcome.

- By 1900, and even more by 1910, the army of women was there. They had had another generations worth of experiences in women's clubs, another generation had been to college, the moment seemed to have arrived.

- [Rosanne] By 1911, there were organized suffrage groups in all the major Tennessee cities.

- [Abby] Well, then Mrs. Kenny and I went to work and we added to those five clubs in the state. We brought it up to over 20.

- [Carole] By 1910, you've suddenly got some younger women coming along that add a little more energy to a group of women that have become rather set in their ways. Take for example, Anne Dallas Dudley. She was from what would be regarded as a good family, and yet she went to a suffrage meeting.

- There's a direct correlation between how tough it was to argue for suffrage in this region and the fact that these elite women were the ones doing it. Because only they could get away with it.

- [Rosanne] A new breed, the career woman, also joined the ranks of the suffrage movement. Sue Shelton White was the first female court stenographer in Jackson, Tennessee.

- So she's that third generation of suffragist who sees the future, sees what the vote might benefit her in many, many ways. Even more than just the vote, it's the sense of equality, of opportunity opening up, and she wants it. This movement really was grabbing the imagination of the everywoman in America. Because it promised a kind of opening not just for the vote, but for a new kind of role for women in society.

- [Rosanne] African American women also saw the promise of a new role, but their fight proved more complex. Adella Hunt Logan from Tuskegee, Alabama, was one of the few who openly advocated for suffrage while still living in the South.

- I've come across no evidence that African American women moved outside of their own communities to promote suffrage for women. What they did do, for example at Tuskegee Institute, in that protected African American environment, those women sometimes did indeed hold rallies for women voting, but they wouldn't have done so in the town of Tuskegee or have done so in the city of Atlanta.

- As the movement gained strength in the South, national leaders continued to try to appease white Southerners on the race issue. And they were very, very wary of how anything they said about race was gonna be used against them by the anti-suffragist. And so they continued to tolerate discrimination, and they played down the role of black women in the movement.

- [Rosanne] Former Tennesseans Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells actively worked for woman suffrage, but in their adopted hometowns of Washington DC and Chicago, Illinois. In 1913, they were confronted with the racial politics of the movement when they were asked to march at the back of a massive suffrage parade on the nation's capital.

- Mary Church Terrell, she led a group in that march. While they marched, they marched in the back. On the other hand, you have Ida B. Wells. But what she does is that she steps out from the Chicago delegation that's walking, and she walks with the Chicago delegation of white women.

- I think what that parade incident tells us is that, first of all, there is no one way of responding. Ida B. Wells says, "Well, no, I'm not gonna do it." She was very uncompromising. Mary Church Terrell would have looked for the compromise for the good of the whole. But they're all working for the same thing.

- [Rosanne] By then, the woman suffrage movement had made major gains in other regions, especially in the West. But Southern legislators were still resistant. Tennessee suffragists did have enough support in the major cities to organize Mayday parades, with hundreds of cars and women bedecked in suffrage yellow. At the first parade in Nashville in 1914, according to the local paper, Anne Dallas Dudley gave the first open air speech by any woman in Tennessee.

- A Southern woman should be happy and content in her home on her pedestal, and here they're coming down from the pedestal into the mud of the streets, and saying, "Uh uh, things are not all right." And that was really pretty radical.

- If the most privileged person in the society rejected its fundamental hierarchical structure and demanded to have equal representation and power, then that kind of suggested the corruption of the entire system. Anti-suffragists had an arsenal of ideology and arguments against woman suffrage, that fell into basically five categories. Biological, biblical or religious, sociological arguments, racial arguments, and states rights arguments.

- [Man] Remember, that Woman Suffrage means a reopening of the entire Negro Suffrage question, loss of state rights, and another period of reconstruction horrors.

- Southerners had worked so hard since the Civil War to take away all the rights of African American men regarding politics. And now this would open this whole can of worms of who should be voting, and is it the federal government's responsibility to determine who can vote inside a state and who cannot?

- [Rosanne] By the mid 1910s, the woman suffrage movement gained enough momentum to require an organized opposition.

- [Carole] Manufacturers did not want women to have the right to vote because they would probably start pushing for regulations over these factories. The liquor industry opposed women having the right to vote because they blamed women for prohibition. And finally, there were the railroads. They had a very significant voice in the hallways and back rooms where the deals were cut here at the General Assembly.

- [Rosanne] While these business interests worked the halls of state legislatures throughout the South, women provided the public face of organized anti-suffrage groups. In Tennessee, Josephine Pearson of Monteagle emerged as the leader.

- This is what was so unbelievable about Josephine Pearson, she had never married, she was a totally independent woman, and yet she was a very effective spokesman, telling people why women shouldn't have the right to vote.

- Opposing women's suffrage, in their view, isn't opposing their own self interest, it's protecting those other areas of their self interest. Their economic self interest, their class self interest, their region's political structure, all of those things that they benefit from, they are choosing to protect.

- [Rosanne] By 1917, women had won either full or partial suffrage in 17 states. But the Southeastern states remained steadfastly resistant. As national leaders turned their organizational strength towards a federal constitutional amendment, Southern women had to face political reality.

- It's probably safe to say, Southern suffragists were very practical at this point. There were just so many states that were never going to enact woman suffrage. If they really wanted it to be nationwide, it was gonna have to come by federal amendment.

- [Rosanne] With the outbreak of war, a rift between the two national suffrage groups grew wider. Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, or the National, encouraged all her members to turn their energy toward the war effort. She hoped their actions would convince President Woodrow Wilson that women deserved the full right of citizenship. However, Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman's Party, refused to stop her aggressive tactics designed to embarrass the President.

- [Elaine] The whole idea of women standing up and being this aggressive, on top of just being suffragists, which was considered aggressive enough, kind of puts it over the pale. And so both Southern men find it very offensive, and Southern women, even Southern suffragists.

- [Rosanne] Sue Shelton White, however, found the bold tactics appealing. She changed affiliations, eventually moving to Washington DC to work for Alice Paul.

- She served her time in the mainstream suffrage organization. She's gotten frustrated, and so she joins the Women's Party because she thinks they are going to be more aggressive and more confrontational in demanding the vote, and she's willing to do that now.

- [Rosanne] The majority of Tennessee suffragists, however, followed Carrie Chapman Catt's advice to join the war effort.

- [Marjorie] Carrie Chapman Catt was a political pragmatist, and she gambled on having her legions of activists enter the war effort. And for her, that was a real sacrifice because she was a committed pacifist, but the gamble paid off. Woodrow Wilson eventually came out and supported the federal amendment.

- [Rosanne] Only five months after the armistice, Tennessee suffragists introduced a bill to the state legislature allowing women to vote in presidential and municipal elections. In their appeal to Tennessee men, the suffragists emphasized women's contributions to winning the war, as well as how many women could already vote in other states.

- [Woman] All the women of the West, some millions of the North, and many thousands of the South are already voters. What may the women of Tennessee expect of you?

- That is what finally tipped the scale, when there were so many states that had supported it, that the politicians in both political parties began to sense that women were gonna get the vote, you were gonna double the electorate, and which side of that did you want to be on?

- [Rosanne] On April 14th, 1919, Tennessee women won the right to vote in presidential and municipal elections, adding even more momentum to the building tidal wave of pro-suffrage sentiment. Less than two months later, with President Wilson's support, both houses of the US Congress passed the 19th Amendment. To become law, the amendment now had to be ratified by 36 states. As the fight for the federal amendment went to the states for ratification, Tennessee suffragists immediately put their new state voting rights into action, creating a list of reforms they wanted and organizing a voter registration drive. Catherine Kenny spearheaded the efforts in Nashville.

- [Abby] And she did superb work of organizing. She is the strongest woman that I ever worked with in woman's suffrage. She had more political sense than half a dozen men.

- [Rosanne] In an extraordinary alliance rarely seen in the South, Kenny teamed with Dr. Maddie Coleman and J. Frankie Pierce, influential leaders in the black community, to register approximately 2000 African American women in Nashville.

- I have found very little evidence that indicates that black women and white women worked together in the South. Adella Hunt Logan tried to encourage the National Association of Colored Women to join in efforts with white groups of all sorts. But for the most part, those efforts were not very successful. The white women weren't open to it for the most part.

- [Rosanne] By September 1919, every major city in the state reported remarkable numbers of women, black and white, registering. By late March 1920, only one more state was needed to ratify the federal amendment, but few viable options remained. As spring warmed into summer, suffragists' hopes of being able to vote in the 1920 presidential election were repeatedly dashed as state legislators rejected the amendment, or governors refused to call special sessions in all but one state, Tennessee.

- So the suffragists are very nervous when they realize that the last battle may have to be fought in a Southern state. Because, again, most of the Southern states have already rejected the 19th Amendment. So there's this sense of anxiety, and well placed by the suffragists, if they don't get it now, they may not get it after the 1920 election, it'll be too hard to regain momentum.

- [Rosanne] Tennessee governor Albert Roberts resisted enormous pressure, even from President Wilson, to call a special session.

- [Abby] You know, we had an awful time getting Governor Roberts to call the extra session. He said the women would vote against him. His election was coming up right away, and he didn't want them to have the vote. And I said, "Well, you know, if you give them the vote, "they'll have to vote for you."

- So he weighed the political liability of this decision before he announced that he would call the special session. The caveat being that the special session would convene after the August primary. So the message was very clear, women, if I don't win the Democratic nomination for governor, you can probably write off having the special session, it will not take place.

- [Rosanne] As Tennessee suffragists threw themselves into organizing support, battle-hardened Carrie Chapman Catt offered her sober assessment.

- [Carrie] No matter how well the women may work, ratification in Tennessee will go through the work and action of men. And the great motive that will finally put it through will be political and nothing else. We have long since recovered from our previous faith in the action of men based upon the love of justice.

- [Carole] And they began a physically demanding and tireless crusade, going across the state, whether it be on the train, in the wagon, meeting with every member of the Tennessee General Assembly, attempting to persuade them of the justice, the righteousness of this cause.

- [Abby] I remember going in one county, near Clarksville, there was a county up there that didn't have a railroad in it. And it was way before the time of bus service. The only way I could get in there and get to the court house was to ride in that county with the mailman. He let me ride with him. They wouldn't let you today.

- The anti-suffragists are also organizing. They go from Memphis to Nashville to Chattanooga, trying to get support for halting, preventing the Governor from calling a special session. And if that fails, at least to promising to vote against ratification.

- [Rosanne] As the summer heat and sticky humidity descended on Nashville, national leaders of all factions arrived to rally their troops. Sue White returned to her home state eager but anxious, with only limited resources from the National Woman's Party. Both Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National, and Josephine Pearson, President of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, took rooms at the elegant Hermitage Hotel.

- So you've got these two women on different floors of the Hermitage Hotel, where the scene of the fight is going to take place. It becomes known as the War of the Roses, because the antis wore red roses, red flowers, and the suffragists wore yellow roses or yellow flowers.

- [Jeannette] Our headquarters for both the suffragists and the antis were in the Hermitage Hotel. They were on different floors, fortunately. But we go up and down on the elevator, and best friends wouldn't speak to each other. It was such a heated campaign.

- [Rosanne] As July gave way to August, legislators arrived for the special session, and were met by legions of women hoping to pin a yellow or red rose on their lapels.

- The suffragists had done their homework, they were indeed much more organized than the antis were. So when the session conveyed, they really thought they had a very comfortable margin. And yet this is at the point when the antis really began to work.

- [Elaine] So everyone converges on the Hermitage, and the lobby is just a swarm of people debating and arguing and lobbying and perhaps bribing.

- [Abby] The Hermitage Hotel was the scene of many fist fights. No woman would dare venture down there.

- [Rosanne] On the eighth floor of the hotel, despite prohibition laws, liquor lobbyists set up what came to be known as the Jack Daniels Suite, luring legislators there hoping to turn yellow roses into red.

- [Abby] And they served liquor there to the members, all the members that they could get drunk. They took our votes away from us with all of the men that they could.

- [Rosanne] Within the first few days of the special session, suffragists saw the effects of the anti's lobbying efforts. Powerful political allies who had pledged to lead the efforts for ratification turned anti, including Speaker of the House, Seth Walker.

- [Abby] He started out being favorable to the women's suffrage. And then they got to him, you know, there was an awful lot of bribery. No man was free from being importuned and offered an office.

- It is not ladylike politics at all, this fight that is going to take place in the halls of the Tennessee State Capitol. The arguments are fierce. The ridicule and humiliation of the suffragists were intense.

- [Dorothy] The atmosphere was very tense in the legislature, and if I told you some of the arguments against it, you wouldn't believe it. Once a month, women don't have good sense.

- Oh, no.

- So when an election comes up if it's in the time when she is non compis mentis, what are we going to face? Oh, it was a big argument, and all the rural areas went for that argument.

- [Rosanne] On the fifth day of the special session, Friday the 13th, the Tennessee Senate overwhelmingly voted to ratify the Amendment. Suffragists now had to contend with the ever shifting House of Representatives, led by their unexpected adversary, Seth Walker, a master of legislative stalling tactics.

- [Harry] And it did look like that the longer the voting was delayed, the greater chance the opponents had to defeat it. I believe there were in Nashville at the time, 100 to 150 lobbyists.

- With each delay in the Tennessee House, the suffragists became more and more anxious. Because on a daily basis, as the men convened, they saw men who had supported ratification, men who had worn yellow roses, now appearing in the House chamber wearing red roses.

- [Rosanne] When the sun rose on the 10th day of the special session, all the leaders of the many suffrage factions counted who remained on their list of supporters, and all came up short. Even most of Nashville's representatives, personally pledged by Anne Dallas Dudley, had defected to the antis. The vote would finally happen. In this one moment, in this unlikely place, rested the civic fate of millions of women. The House clerk continued the roll call for the final vote on the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

- [Clerk] Boyer.

- [Boyer] Nay.

- [Clerk] Bratton.

- [Bratton] Nay.

- [Clerk] Burn.

- [Rosanne] Harry Burn was a first time legislator from Niota, Tennessee, and the youngest member of the House at only 24 years old.

- It so happens that after I had gotten to Nashville, people from all over the country had gone into my county, that had indignation meetings that caused the courts to adjourn so that they might pass resolutions, and my constituency was in a great state of turmoil. I don't know yet exactly what the majority favored, but anyway, there's lots of feeling existed. So much so that when I would go home on a weekend, I would try to keep a bodyguard around so that no one would attack me.

- [Rosanne] With the intense pressure from Republican leaders and constituents back home, Burn had voted with antis all along, despite his personal support for suffrage. He had hoped his vote would not matter in the final outcome. But a last minute change by West Tennessee legislator Banks Turner meant the final vote would likely end in a tie.

- He is so torn, he is so conflicted. Here he is, does he do what personally, what his conscience feels is right, or does he do what will be better for him for his reelection campaign? And he's done the math and realized that with Banks Turner flipping towards the amendment, he may be the deciding vote. It's just what he didn't want to happen.

- [Rosanne] In a fortuitous bit of timing, Burn received a letter from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, right before he walked into the House chamber.

- My mother was a college woman. She was a student of national and international affairs. She took an interest in all public issues. She could not vote. And yet the tenant farmers on our farm, some of whom were illiterate, could vote.

- [Rosanne] Febb Burn had been closely following the reports of the Tennessee legislature in her local newspaper. Nestled amongst folksy news of his hometown, Burn's mother gave her son some advice.

- [Febb] Hurrah and vote for suffrage, and don't keep 'em in doubt. I've been waiting to see how you stood, but have not seen anything yet. Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs Catt with her rats.

- So when it came Harry's turn to vote, Harry, with his very quiet vote, voted aye. I vote for the suffrage cause. Harry has changed his vote. Can you believe it?

- [Rosanne] The roll call continued through to the T's.

- [Clerk] Travis.

- [Travis] Aye.

- [Clerk] Tucker.

- [Tucker] Aye.

- [Clerk] Turner. Turner.

- [Rosanne] The clerk marked Turner as not voting, and the roll call continued to the end.

- At that point, it will be a tied vote, which means suffrage will go down to defeat, even with Harry Burn's affirmative vote. What happens next is whatever's going through Banks Turner's mind. He says to the clerk.

- [Banks] I wish to be recognized, and I wish to vote aye.

- There's a moment of complete utter stunned silence, because everyone realizes, this is it. This is that one vote margin, and ratification has passed. Then there's an explosion of emotion.

- The antis are furious, they thought they had this deal sealed. And now they are furious, the suffragists are emotional beyond belief, crying, hugging each other, rose petals flying down from the balconies. And you can imagine pandemonium. It was the next day before the press caught up with Harry T. Burn. "Harry, why did you change your mind?" All the reporters wanted to know the answer to that question. And so Harry told the reporter simply, "I always take my mother's advice."

- On that roll call, when I was confronted with the fact that I was going to go on record for time and eternity on the merits of the question, I voted in favor of ratification.

- There were all manner of shenanigans being pulled politically to try to get yet another vote, but the vote held. And so somewhat reluctantly, I think, Governor Roberts finally said, "Bring me the document, I'm gonna sign it." And it was signed and immediately put on the train to go back to Washington to be presented to the Secretary of State.

- [Rosanne] Across the nation, women who had worked for suffrage, some their entire lives, celebrated this hard won civil right. For some Southern suffragists, however, the ratification by federal amendment was a bittersweet victory.

- [Pattie] It only remains for the outward and visible sign of our freedom to be put in the hands of Southern women by the generous men of other states. A situation that hurts our pride, and to which we submit with deep regret, but not apology.

- [Adele] Most Southern suffragists really wanted to get the vote by state action because of what that symbolizes. What it symbolized is that your men, the men in your life, the men in your state, see you as their political equal.

- [Rosanne] Passage of the 19th Amendment also did not mean African American women would be treated as political equals.

- African American women in the South were faced with, in many instances, the failure to enforce the provisions of the 15th Amendment. Many of them wanted to vote, many of them tried to vote, but they faced the same barriers to voting that African American men did. In other words, they were limited by provisions of poll taxes, by physical intimidation.

- They understood that there were gonna be some restrictions and restraints placed upon them. But they also understood that with fortitude, with perseverance, that they could get through it and be active participants in the political system.

- The ratification of the 19th Amendment was only the first step in a long series of battles, culminating in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. But even those were not the end. Who gets to vote in this country is still being debated 100 years later.

- Looking back at history, you can see that rights are given, rights are taken away. So the fact that we won this right to vote doesn't mean it's always there. It needs to be defended, it needs to be protected. And that's an important lesson in democracy. Doesn't take away from what was achieved, but it shows that you can't just pass laws. It's not that simple.

- Having the legal right particularly guaranteed in the Constitution is an enormous first step. That doesn't mean that the world changed, that's just the tool with which we can change the world. But we have to continue the process or it'll erode.

- I think looking at the long history of woman suffrage, what we can take away is that sometimes change happens over a very, very long period of time, but they do change, and the wheel of progress just keeps right on turning, with a few maybe backward rotations, but it keeps turning.

- [Marjorie] The overall story of the Southern suffrage movement is one of failure. But the fact that Southern suffragists managed to get four states to ratify, and that Tennessee ratified despite all the pressure that was being applied to get it not to, now, that's a story in what sheer persistence can accomplish in the face of great obstacles.

- [Narrator] Major funding for "By One Vote: "Woman Suffrage in the South" is provided by the Bethany Fund. Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. The Joe C. Davis Foundation in memory of Frances Bond Davis. The Shayne Foundation. Cathy and Martin Brown & The MSB Cockayne Fund. And by Carlene Lebous and Harris Haston. Additional support provided by First Tennessee Foundation. Anne and Charles Roos. Hannah Paramore Breen, Andrea Conte, Laurie Gold Eskind, and the following. And by members of NPT. Thank you.



PBS Learning Media

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Ratification Battle

NPT's Learning Media Suffrage Lesson

Suffrage | Solider & Citizen

NPT's Learning Media Suffrage Lesson

Creating 72 Steps

NPT's Learning Media Suffrage Lesson

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