It was early evening, in some small town, Tennessee. Things were quiet as usual. All the supper dishes were washed, and put away in their cupboards. It had been meatloaf and potatoes that night.
A woman named Febb — Febb T. Burn — stood at the kitchen sink and dried her hands on her apron. She went over to her husband’s desk drawer, pulled out a few sheets of paper and a pen, and sat down at the kitchen table. She began writing her son a lengthy letter, in which she she asked him to “be a good boy.”
She signed it, Love, Your Mother.
Of course, that leads us to the 19th Amendment’s ratification. And this is the anniversary. In it, holds the story of a young politician whose unexpected vote gave all women the right to vote.
Yes, it brings us to a young man named Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old legislator, from the state of Tennessee. I’m told the tale has become a bit embellished over the years. But he played a role in the 19th Amendment. Although, before the amendment was ratified, many women had won the right to vote in certain states.
Yet, the whole dang deal came to a head in August 1920. There was a huge struggle between the suffrage movement (which wanted the vote for women) and powerful anti-suffrage forces. And the clamor and clanging had come down to a series of votes in Tennessee.
So there it had been. Slowly gaining steam. And, by the middle of 1920, a total of 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment. But there’s always a hitch, isn’t there? That “hitch” — that problem — was that 36 states were needed. The other glitch was that there was only one state left where a vote could be taken that year. Tennessee.
Imagine the lobbying that went on in Nashville from both sides. It was so intense it became known as the War of the Roses. Supporters of suffrage wore yellow roses in public, and 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. The other legislators were deadlocked.
On August 18, when it came time for the decisive vote, Burn showed up with a red rose in his lapel. But he surprised the whole lot of them, when he clearly voiced his “aye” when asked if he would ratify the amendment. He gave it the decisive vote in favor of the suffragists.
Forget about the rose. Look in the guy’s pocket. It held that letter, from his mom. Febb E. Burn. All seven pages of it. The one where she asked him to “be a good boy” and vote in support of the amendment.
The 70-year-old battle for suffrage was over. I wonder what my Grandma Jeanette, 26, and my Grandma Regina, 23, were thinking at the time. Did they dance in the streets? Or did they nod quietly in approval? Maybe they disapproved. I’ll never know.
But I do know how it makes me feel. Grateful. To Febb E. Burn, on that day. And to all of those warrior women, those pioneers, who fought in that 70-year battle. I say, “Heck yes I can vote. And I do it every single chance I get.”
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
― Marie Shear
“In the true married relationship, the independence of husband and wife will be equal, their dependence mutual, and their obligations reciprocal.”
― Lucretia Mott (1793-1880)
“Atta’ baby, Lucretia.”
— Polly Kronenberger