For the past three weeks, we followed the footsteps of the women who advocated, organized and campaigned for women's political equality. The 144-year struggle, begun in 1776, culminated in a historic vote on Aug. 18, 1920, when the Tennessee House of Representatives voted for ratification of the 19th Amendment. Just days ago, we commemorated that vote across Tennessee and the nation with the ringing of bells, parades and a re-enactment in the Tennessee House, made memorable by current legislators portraying their 1920 counterparts.
We know the end of the story; we applaud the courage of Niota and McMinn County's Harry T. Burn in removing the red rose from his lapel and casting his vote for women's suffrage. That vote, accompanied by cheers from Tennessee's Yellow Rose Suffrage leaders, surprised many. Opposition leaders cast about for ways to reverse the decision, but the speaker of the House, trapped by a parliamentary procedural error of his own making, had eliminated any chance of reversal. The vote would stand, and Tennessee would be celebrated as the Perfect 36.
The following morning, before the House's meeting, Rep. Burn sent a letter to the clerk, asking that it be read aloud. He eloquently identified his reasons for voting "yes," including: "I believe in full suffrage as a right; I believe we had a legal and moral right to ratify ... I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as seldom comes to mortal man — to free 17,000,000 women from political slavery — was mine." And, indeed, he was correct in that statement; his vote changed constitutional history and our nation. In the years following his vote, Burn was generous in acknowledging members of the Senate, other members of the House and local officials whose leadership and strong voices enabled his vote to create the majority.
In this final remembrance of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it seems appropriate to recall some of this region's less-recognized women and men who labored for women's suffrage.
Did you know that local women first gathered to discuss suffrage in the 1880s as part of the Kosmos Club? Or that the Chattanooga Equal Suffrage League was chartered in 1911?
The original roll of members, many interestingly listed by their husband's names, are recognizable to local history scholars. Mrs. L.P. Barnes was not only a founding member of the League but became a noted Tennessee leader, delivering a key address at the 1911 Nashville Equal Suffrage League meeting. The signatures of Frances Fort Brown, Mrs. Lewis Coleman, Mrs. Emille B. Cope, Marie McPherson, Zora Ford, Mrs. C.J. Wester, Josephine and Margaret Ervin, and Catherine Wester appeared on the original charter. Chattanooga's Eleanor Coonrood, the first female member of the Tennessee Bar Association, served as secretary of the Chattanooga Equal Suffrage League, 1911.
Sarah Frazier, well-known author and speaker, stepped forward to chair the Third District's Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association in 1918 and joined Abby Crawford Milton and others in lobbying for the vote during the 1920 special session. Dora C. Horine understood that suffrage workers had to write and speak persuasively; she organized a "suffrage school," where volunteers were trained in parliamentary procedures and public speaking. Mary Howard advocated a more direct and confrontational approach to gaining the vote, becoming the second vice chairman of the Tennessee National Woman's Party, originally organized by Alice Paul and the Congressional Union.
Sarah Barnwell Elliott, from Sewanee, campaigned to "educate" legislators, mayors and other political leaders on the necessity for equal political rights. Her suffrage petitions gained national attention and, at her request, the American Woman Suffrage Association would hold its annual conference in Nashville in 1914. Corinne Sanders, wife of U.S. Sen. Newell Sanders, earned her place in history when, in 1917, she became the first Tennessee woman to vote. The Tennessee legislature, months earlier, had passed a special bill allowing women to vote in Lookout Mountain elections.
It is equally important to remember that each vote for women's suffrage in the Tennessee General Assembly was cast by a man. Chattanooga men stepped forward as early as 1914 to campaign for "equality and justice in all laws," as voiced by Thomas Crutchfield. He was joined by R.B. Cook, Finney Thomas Carter, Newell Sanders, William Riley Crabtree, W.L. Frierson, Leonidas D. Miller and others. But, that's a story for another day of remembrance .
Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, is a member of the Tennessee Woman 100 Committee and regent, Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.