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95 Years Ago Today

On August 18, 1920, as women were campaigning state by state for ratification of the 19th amendment, Tennessee became the state to put them over the top, thereby making it possible for women to vote in the Presidential elections that fall.

There's a lot to be said about the hard work done by many women--and men--in introducing and passing the 19th Amendment, and over the next few years, I will probably say some of it, as I am in the midst of a new poetry project with which I'm in love, involving womens' suffrage at its core.

The hero of that day ninety-five years ago today was Harry T. Burn, a young state representative who, like many in his party, wore a red rose on his lapel to signify opposition to womens' suffrage. The legislature tried to table the amendment, which ended with a 48-48 tie. As a result, the speaker called the vote. The women packing the galleries with themselves and their yellow roses, were distraut, nearly certain of a loss.

The representatives were polled, and Harry Burn, known for his past opposition, said "aye" so quickly it took his fellow representatives a bit to react, but it was his change of mind that made Tennessee the 35th state to ratify the amendment by a vote of 49-47, making it the law of the land. He quite literally risked life and limb in casting his vote as he did, as he was forced to hide in the attics until the crowds had dispersed and was reportedly chased by anti-suffragists who forced him out a window and onto a ledge.

Why did he do it?

Before going to work that morning, young Mr. Burn received a letter from his mother. He might not have been a suffragist, but he was a good son, so he did as his mother asked. He carried her eight-page letter inside his coat jacket, along with a yellow rose. Her letter read in part as follows:

Dear Son, ... Hurray and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed Chandlers’ speech, it was very bitter. I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet.... Don’t forget to be a god boy and help Mrs. Catt with her “Rats.” Is she the one that put rat in ratification, Ha! No more from mama this time. With lots of love, Mama

When he was later called upon to explain his vote, which some said had been bought by bribery, Mr. Burns released the following statement:

I desire to resent in the name of honesty and justice the veiled intimidation and accusation regarding my vote on the Suffrage Amendment as indicated in certain statements, and it is my sincere belief that those responsible for their existence know that there is not a scintilla of truth in them. I want to state that I changed my vote in favor of ratification first because I believe in full suffrage as a right; second, I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify; third, I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification; fourth, I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as seldom comes to a mortal man to free seventeen million women from political slavery was mine; fifth, I desired that my party in both State and nation might say that it was a republican from the East mountains of Tennessee, the purest Anglo- Saxon section in the world, who made national woman suffrage possible at this date, not for personal glory but for the glory of his party.

So for today, a big thanks to Mr. Burn, and to his mother, Phoebe (Febb) Ensminger Burn. I'm pretty certain she was one proud mama. She certainly looks like someone I'd have liked to meet.

          Phoebe "Febb" Ensminger Burn

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2015 12:50 am (UTC)
That is awesome information! Thank you for sharing it with us. I look forward to reading your future project.
Aug. 31st, 2015 10:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
TS Davis
Aug. 27th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
Well, HUH. Imagine that.
WHOA, Mama. The hand that rocks the cradle, &tc., &tc.
Aug. 31st, 2015 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Well, HUH. Imagine that.
To be fair, he did say he'd always intended to vote in favor of suffrage, but still, one wonders . . .
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:53 pm (UTC)
Good job, Harry. And thank you, Harry's mom.
Aug. 31st, 2015 10:06 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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