Women Suffrage & Harry T. Burn

Women Suffrage & Harry T. Burn

In his book, 1920 The Year of Six Presidents, David Pietrusza recounts the struggle to obtain the right of women to vote. He describes Alice Stokes Paul who dedicated herself to the cause, even Suffrage picketing the White House in 1913. Marching on the way, some ten thousand suffragettes were set upon by thugs who slapped them, spit on them and knocked them down, tearing banners out of their hands. Over the next several years, Paul and thousands of other women continued their agitation for the right to vote in the face of ridicule, jailing and even physical abuse by opponents. In October of 1917 Paul and other women were arrested for picketing and she was put in solitary confinement in the Washington D.C. jail. Conditions were appalling, but the women continued their activities after being released and were treated as hero’s by their supporters. Women across the country gained support until a Constutional Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the states for voting ratification. The story of their persistence and courage is inspiring.

One of the interesting facts regarding the struggle involves the ratification vote. Over a period of months enough states had ratified that by March of 1920, when the Washington State legislature unanimously voted to ratify, only one more state was need to pass the Amendment. Tennessee became the focus of attention as the state who could pass or defeat the issue. The political wheeling and dealing was fierce and several votes taken without enough to resolve the issue. House member Harry T. Burn, from Southeast Tennessee, stood opposed and had voted against ratification. He even wore a red rose in his lapel, the sign of opposition to passing the bill. After a vote ended in a 48 to 48 tie there was more debate and the next day another vote was called. When it was Burn’s turn,  twenty four year old Harry T. Burn voted "aye" instead of the expected "nay." The House suddenly realized the Nineteenth Amendment was going to pass. To howls of protest, Burns explained that while he wore a red rose in his lapel they couldn’t’t see the letter in his pocket which he had just received that morning from his mother which she had written him from their 400 acre farm. It turned out that the letter began:  "Dear Son, Hurray and vote for suffrage!" and went on telling him to be a "good boy" and support the bill. Burns explained his reasons for changing his vote which included this reason: "I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification." So his mother, forty four year old Febb Burn, became a celerity for changing history by changing her son’s vote. Who says one voice can’t make a difference?

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