Upcoming events in Nashville, Niota and South Pittsburg, Tennessee, will help tell the story of the state's key role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women in the United States the right to vote.
The state of Tennessee will commemorate its role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment with a reenactment of the vote in Nashville on Tuesday, Aug. 18. The reenactment takes place 100 years ago to the day and in the same location, the floor of the House chamber at the state Capitol.
Called "Our Century! Living Tennessee's History of the Ratification," the event will be livestreamed beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET via the TNWoman100 Facebook and YouTube pages, as well as the Facebook pages of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee State Museum, Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Historical Society. TNWoman100.com is the website of the Official Committee of the State of Tennessee Woman Suffrage Centennial.
The livestream will be hosted by Mac Pirkle, founder and CEO of Creative Communications, which is producing the reenactment, and Demetria Kalodimos, broadcast journalist and filmmaker.
Members of the 1920 House of Representatives will be portrayed by current members of the Tennessee General Assembly and actors working from a script created in consultation with the Official Committee. The livestream will be archived and available for future viewing.
"Our hope is Tennesseans throughout the state, especially educators and school-aged children, will tune in to this historic occasion to commemorate a moment in Tennessee's history that affected the lives of millions of women throughout the country," said a statement from the Official Committee. "Tennesseans can be very proud of what was accomplished in our century 100 years ago, not only by those legislators that voted 'aye' for suffrage, but by the many women in our state, and throughout the nation, who fought hard for decades to make it a reality."
The 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, passed the U.S. House and Senate on June 4, 1919, and was sent to the states for ratification. To become part of the U.S. Constitution, the Amendment needed to be approved by 36 of the then 48 states. By the summer of 1920, 35 of the 36 states needed for ratification had approved the amendment. Eight states had rejected the amendment; five had not voted. Suffragists saw Tennessee as their last, best hope for ratification before the 1920 presidential election. On Aug. 9, Gov. Albert H. Roberts called a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to consider the issue. Suffragists and anti-suffragists descended on Nashville.
In what became known as Tennessee's War of the Roses, pro-suffrage activists wore yellow roses as a symbol of support, in stark contrast to the red roses of the opposition. Fierce lobbying commenced on both sides of the issue, but the resolution passed easily in the state Senate. Now women lobbied furiously to secure votes in the House of Representatives, where the vote was so close as to create an even split among Tennessee state representatives.
On Aug. 18, 1920, suffragists and anti-suffragists packed the public galleries in the House chamber for its vote. Members and spectators wore yellow or red roses, reflecting their stance. The atmosphere was tense.
The Speaker of the House, Seth Walker of Lebanon, served as the anti-suffrage leader, although he had previously advocated for suffrage. Joseph Hanover of Memphis led the suffrage cause in the House. After Seth Walker tried unsuccessfully to table the amendment, which would have effectively killed the bill, the House was required to vote on the 19th Amendment.
As the roll call began and votes were tallied, the youngest member of the House, 24-year-old Harry Burn of Niota, faced a dilemma. In his coat pocket was a seven-page letter from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn. Among general news of the family farm, "Miss Febb" used the letter to persuade her son to change his anti-suffrage stance, writing "hurrah and vote for suffrage!"
As Burn's name approached for roll call, the young man, sporting a red anti-suffrage rose, shocked the chamber by claiming "aye" for the amendment, thus breaking a tie and changing the course of history. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on Aug. 26, 1920.
The city of Niota, Tennessee, home of Harry T. Burn, the state legislator who cast the deciding vote to make Tennessee the 36th and final state required to ratify the 19th Amendment, will celebrate that achievement with a pictorial stamp cancellation and unveiling ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Niota Depot, 21 Main St. The Niota Depot Preservation Committee will host the event.
Defending his unexpected vote, Burn explained that he was fulfilling the wishes of his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn. "A mother's advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification," he said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the unveiling ceremony will be by invitation only that morning. The public may view the stamp at 12:30 p.m. A mask will be required, as will social distancing of 6 feet moving through the depot.
Pictorial envelopes with the special cancellation will be available only in Niota. Pictorial envelopes from the 75th anniversary also will be available for purchase. Some will have the new stamp added.
The Niota Post Office also will be selling and cancelling the stamp. For a limited time, personal artwork may be mailed for cancellation to the Niota Post Office, P.O. Box 9998, Niota, TN 37826-9998.
Tyler L. Boyd, great-great-grandson of "Miss Febb," will be selling signed copies of his biography of Harry Burn, his great-granduncle.
The 100th anniversary envelopes are $3, or two for $5. Envelopes that contain the 75th and 100th anniversary are $5 each. To purchase by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to NDPC, P.O. Box 515, Niota, TN 37826-0515.
For more information, email Tyler Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Frances Powers, event coordinator, at email@example.com or 423-887-3631.
"To Make Our Voices Heard: Tennessee Women's Fight for the Vote," a new traveling exhibition, will be on display, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. CDT Monday, Aug. 31, at American Legion Post 62, 300 Elm Ave. in South Pittsburg.
Created in partnership with the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the exhibition explores the history of the women's suffrage movement, Tennessee's dramatic vote to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920 and the years that followed.
The South Pittsburg stop is made possible by the Judge David Campbell Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Marion County Mayor's Office. Masks will be required to view the exhibit (and will be provided, if needed), and the event will be set up to encourage social distancing.
The exhibit is constructed of multiple dynamic panels, offering guests a touch-free experience of archival images, engaging stories and introductions to the leaders of the fight for and against women's suffrage.
In coordination with the traveling exhibit, the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville will soon open "Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right To Vote." An online component of the exhibition, highlighting the suffrage movement in every Tennessee county, is available now at tnmuseum.org.
The exhibition also has been requested by several other Chattanooga-area venues, though dates have not been provided. These include the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, Chattanooga Public Library and the Signal Mountain Library. Also: Bryan College in Dayton, E.G. Fisher Public Library in Athens, Etowah Carnegie Library, May Justus Memorial Library in Monteagle and the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland.