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Women's Suffrage (Special Collections)

This research guide presents Special Collections material that demonstrates womens' fight for suffrage.

19th Amendment

After decades of persistence, President Woodrow Wilson endorsed an amendment to the Constitution and Congress approved the 19th amendment in 1919 which made it illegal to deny the right to vote on the basis of sex. The amendment then needed to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. By March 1920, 35 states had voted in favor of the amendment, and only one more state was needed. As the remaining states began voting to ratify the amendment, the focus eventually came to Tennessee as the state that could potentially pass it. Suffragists and anti-suffragists from across the nation focused their efforts to demonstrate, debate, and lobby Tennessee politicians. 

In a tense situation in August 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly voted in favor of ratifying the 19th amendment to the U. S. Constitution when a key vote came from McMinn County's Harry Burn. Though many had listed him as undecided, Burn voted in favor of the amendment on the advice of his mother. This made Tennessee the 36th and final state needed to ratify the amendment. Only a few short months later in November 1920, millions of women could legally vote for the first time in a presidential election.

clipping from "the courier journal" in louisville, from thursday, august 19, 1920. headline is "TENNESSEE RATIFIES SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT"
Headline from Louisville, Kentucky's newspaper. (Harry T. Burn Scrapbook, MS.1539)

Harry T. Burn Scrapbook, 1920-1946 (MS.1539)

"in honor of those who have made the volunteer state 'a perfect 36' a banquet will be given by knoxville women, at the women's building thursday evening, september 21, 1920 at 6:30 p.m.

Harry Burn, a Republican representative from Niota, McMinn County, in the Tennessee House of Representatives, cast the deciding vote for the state to ratify the 19th amendment. This crucial vote made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment, meaning it would be added to the U.S. Constitution. Heading into the vote, suffragists and lobbyists had Burn listed as "undecided," meaning they were unsure of which way he would vote on the matter. Although political leaders from his home country opposed the ratification, Burn was most heavily influenced by his mother who wrote him a letter urging him to vote in favor of women's suffrage. This scrapbook includes newspaper clippings and some memorabilia documenting Burn's vote.