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The Road to Becoming "The Perfect 36"

A state representative from Tennessee cast the deciding vote to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

Posted on April 17, 2019
By Yvonne Wood
Vision 2020 Delegate from Tennessee
Board President, Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument

In May 1914, 1915 and 1916, Tennessee suffragists marched to Nashville’s Centennial Park giving rousing speeches to garner support for women’s suffrage. Speaking to a crowd of 6,000, suffragist Anne Dallas Dudley began by saying “We have met here today to discuss the most vital question before women…we want the dignity of the ballot.”

Equal suffrage was a hot issue that prompted Governor A.H. Roberts to call a special session of the Legislature on August 9, 1920, to consider ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The pro- and anti-suffrage supporters, both headquartered at the Hermitage Hotel, filled the path between the hotel and capitol with lobbying, political intrigue, broken promises and even bribery.

On August 18, 1920, history was made when the bill passed by just one vote cast by 24-year-old Rep. Harry Burn, of Niota. The House erupted, and he was literally chased out of the capitol, hiding in the attic for safety. The next day, when cooler heads prevailed, he explained that his mother had sent him a letter saying “be a good boy and help Ms. Catt put the Rat in Ratification.” Tennessee became “The Perfect 36” and took its place in history as the 36th state (3/4 of 48 required) to ratify the 19th Amendment. Rep. Burn said he felt “a moral obligation to free 17 million women from political slavery, knowing that opportunity comes to mortal man but once.”

Upon passage of the law, Carrie Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, said, “I have lived to realize the great dream of my life—the enfranchisement of women. We are not wards of the nation but are free and equal citizens. Let us practice the dignity of sovereign people.” Frankie Pierce said, “We are interested in the same moral uplift of the community in which we live. We are asking for a square deal…we want recognition in all forms of government.” Sue White said, “We must remember the past, hold fast to the present and build for the future. If you stand accepted today, it is because some women had to fight yesterday.” Abby Milton said, “When I realized we had won, it just seemed too dramatic to happen in real life, but this was the real thrill of history making. I had rather had a share in the battle for woman suffrage than any other world event.”

Because the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument board felt it was time for both Tennessee and these women to be recognized and memorialized for their contributions to women’s suffrage, they initiated a plan to raise private funds to commission a monument and gifted it to Metro Parks in 2015. Sculpted by Alan LeQuire, the monument features five women leaders representing the 1920 suffragists: Carrie Chapman Catt, Anne Dallas Dudley, Sue Shelton White, Abby Crawford Milton and Frankie Pierce.

The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument stands in Centennial Park as a tribute to our foremothers and to Tennessee’s pivotal role in history for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.