Tennessee marks 100 years since women granted the right to vote

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee marks 100 years Tuesday since the crucial decision that finally gave women the right to vote. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee lawmakers cast the vote that ended a decades long struggle, becoming the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 19th amendment and securing women’s suffrage.

Tennessee lawmakers’ historic vote was a tie-breaker. The ratification of the 19th Amendment was secured by a 24-year-old Tennessee legislator’s decisive vote, cast at the bidding of his mother. Harry T. Burn’s surprise move set the stage for decades of slow but steady advances for American women in electoral politics.

By March 1920, 35 states had ratified, while eight states, mostly Southern, had rejected the amendment. Of the states yet to vote, Tennessee was the only one where ratification was considered possible under prevailing political conditions.

19th amendment
FILE – In this August 1920 file photo, Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner, celebrating the ratification of the women’s suffrage amendment. The banner flew in front of headquarters of the Women’s Party in Washington of which Miss Paul was national chairperson. The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose ratification completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution. (AP Photo)

The process moved quickly at first: By March 1920, 35 states had ratified, while eight states, mostly Southern, had rejected the amendment. Of the states yet to vote, Tennessee was the only one where ratification was considered possible under prevailing political conditions.

So all eyes turned to its Legislature, where lawmakers had the power to grant the women’s suffrage movement a victory it had sought for more than 70 years or deal it a painful setback.

At that time, women in more than half the states could vote in presidential elections. But they had no statewide voting rights throughout the South and several other states.

Thousands of activists on both sides of the debate poured into Nashville ahead of the special session. The posh Hermitage Hotel became a hotbed of lobbying and political gossip.

The amendment was approved 25-4 in the state Senate and sent to the House, where sentiment was divided as its turn to vote came on Aug. 18, 1920.

19th amendment
FILE – In this Aug. 27, 1920 file photo, New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith, welcomes Carrie Chapman Catt, women’s suffrage leader, on her return from Tennessee, the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, in New York. Catt carries a bouquet of blue and yellow flowers, colors of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association. (AP Photo)

Mississippi, Tennessee’s neighbor to the South, was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, waiting 64 years before taking that step in 1984.

Women will be celebrating with a powerful message at a number of events in Nashville.

On Tuesday, artist Marilyn Artus will finish an American flag project at War Memorial Auditorium. She has traveled all over the country to create the project inspired by the anniversary.

“It’s about equality. That’s what the 19th amendment was about, just being equal, that’s not asking a lot. My message is for people to vote, and not take advantage of it, and be aware how generations of women fought and died and did not have the right to vote and it was a fight to get this amendment passed. We weren’t given the right to vote, it was a fight,” explained Artus.

A number of murals were painted in the Capitol View district as people are commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Featured in some is Juno Frankie Pierce, who was one of the key players to push votes for women.

One unique way women will celebrate the anniversary is through skydiving.

An elite, all-female team will take to the skies over Nashville to perform an aerial display. The skydiving team will be jumping in an undisclosed location to prevent crowds from gathering due to COVID-19.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center will host a panelist discussion on women’s right to vote and progress made since.

Senator Marsha Blackburn will address women all over the country on a celebratory livestream. Actors will reenact the ratifying vote at the state capitol.

At noon, bells will ring out all over Nashville to mark the historic day.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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