By Scott Bomboy
On the 94th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, we look back at a young politician whose unexpected vote in the Tennessee state legislature gave all women the right to vote.The story of Harry T. Burn, the seemingly rogue 24-year-old legislator, has become a bit embellished over the years. And in fact, women had won the right to vote in some states before the 19th amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the states then in the Union.
But in August 1920, the struggle between the suffrage movement (which wanted the vote for women) and powerful anti-suffrage forces had come down to a series of votes in Tennessee.
The suffrage movement had found a way to get Congress to approve the proposed 19th amendment, with the endorsement of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson (who hadn’t supported it until it became needed as part of the war effort).
By the middle of 1920, a total of 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment. The problem was that 36 states were needed, and there was really only one state left were a vote could be taken that year.
Four other available states—Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida—would not consider the resolution for various reasons. The remaining states had rejected the amendment. But Tennessee decided it would tackle the ratification vote.
Supporters from both sides camped out at a Nashville hotel and began intense lobbying efforts in what became known as the War of the Roses. Supporters of suffrage wore yellow roses in public; the anti-suffragists wore red roses.
The suffragists had lobbied Burn, the youngest member of the state house, but they were unsure of how he would vote.
They did know that any vote to bring the amendment to the floor would be too close to call, as well as the vote to ratify the amendment.
On August 18, the legislature voted on a motion to table, or delay, any ratification vote. It seemed as if the anti-suffragists had enough votes to delay a 19th amendment vote, after Burn arrived wearing a red rose and voted to table the amendment. ...more