Celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. But what many people don’t know is the state of Tennessee played a significant role in this moment in history.

One hundred years ago, all eyes were on Tennessee. Lawmakers here were set to make a historic decision. Tennessee was the 36th and final state needed to pass the amendment.

“It nationally became the fulcrum of attention of the entire nation because if Tennessee passed it, it was going to be law. If Tennessee didn’t pass it, it might have to wait a few years,” Jack Neely, executive director of the Knoxville History Project, said.

The vote was mainly in the hands of one man, Harry Burn. His stance on the suffrage movement was unclear. It took a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy” that many believed led him to vote in favor of the suffragists.

“It’s ironic in a way that all the people who actually cast votes across the nation to change the constitution were men. But it was women influencing them in many cases.” Neely said.

Now, 100 years later, women in Knoxville are still making history.

In 2020, voters in the city elected Knoxville’s second ever female mayor, Knoxville’s first ever Black woman vice mayor, along with the first majority female city council in Knoxville’s history.

“I’m really proud to be Knoxville’s mayor and to be the second female mayor. I enjoyed working for Mayor Rogero who broke that glass ceiling here in Knoxville and now more so than ever before people are seeing that women can be just as good of leaders as men,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said.

Women gaining the right to vote not only opened the door for women in politics today, but also opened the door for women of different races to have access to opportunities that weren’t always there.

“I just hope that women such as myself and Kamala Harris, and we’ve had two female mayors and we now have a city council that is predominately female — can be an inspiration to little girls and young ladies across the United States — that anything is possible,” Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie said.

The Knoxville History Project will hold walking tours that will begin and end at the suffrage statues in Downtown Knoxville.

To book a tour, call Knoxville Walking Tours at 865-309-4522. A walking guide can be found on the Knoxville History Project website.

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