With Speaker of the Legislature Seth Walker voting to approve ratification of the resolution that would give women the right to vote in Tennessee, thus being the 36th state to ratify, victory was at hand. But not quite yet. By approving ratification on Wednesday, Aug. 18, his knowledge of Parliamentary Procedures comforted him to know that he had three days in which he could return to call for reconsideration of his vote. Three days to sway two legislators. Seth Walker controlled the lethal weapon of reconsideration.
Thousands of congratulatory messages arrived at the Hermitage, many of them going to room 309, the room of Carrie Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Local Tennessean and Vice President of NAWSA Ann Dudley was jubilant, leading her state to the victory of the 19th Amendment. Local Sue White, chairman of the National Woman’s Party, was also being credited with the victory in the Legislature. And the women of the NAWSA began lining up behind their new name, the League of Women Voters under the direction of Carrie Catt. Reserved Quaker Alice Paul, serving with the activist National Woman’s Party, unfurled her banner boasting 36 stars for 36 states ratifying the 19th Amendment. Paul vowed to end all discrimination, using women’s votes to ensure that end. She would die still with that unfilled promise.
The Antis weren’t taking this laying down. They developed a multi-pronged plan to discredit the legitimacy of the house’s ratification vote: each pro-voter would receive at least 100 protest telegrams; a ‘Save the South’ meeting was planned; ‘indignation rallies’ were scheduled throughout the state where legislators had voted for ratification; and a comprehensive blackmail scheme was planned for Harry Burn, who had a sudden reversal at the last moment to the Suffs. The blackmail plan included concocting a story wherein Harry Burn was roughed up by Suff freshman Jewish immigrant Joe Hanover (who had emotionally asked, “Why can’t mother vote?”) In that story, the Antis would defame two of the three kingpins for ratification in the Legislature. The blackmail plan continued with Joe Hanover giving Burn $10,000 to change his vote and was complete with dredged up “witnesses,” complete with affidavits.
Except, their fake affidavits were discovered, splashed all over the front page of the Suff-friendly Tennesean and their bold lies were discovered and the blackmail had been foiled Thursday morning. That same morning when the Legislature resumed, Seth Walker did not make a move for reconsideration. The “Sterling 49,” as they came to be known, were steadfast in their votes.
Thursday night a band playing in the Ryman Auditorium played “Dixie” as Seth Walker came to the podium, introduced as “a young Andrew Jackson.” He lauded the Anti delegates who were “keeping this a white man’s country and a white man’s government.”
Friday morning dawned and Tom Dodson, a young East Tennessee lawyer who was an enthusiastic Suff, received word of his dying infant. Running to board the departing train, two suffrage men ran after him, literally removing him from the train to ensure his vote, promising a private express train after the vote. Seth Walker attempted to adjourn until Monday but the adjournment was voted down, 49 to 47. Quickly the Suffs moved to adjourn until Saturday, knowing victory was at hand.
One last-ditch effort resulted in the Antis scurrying away in the middle of the night 25 delegates on a special L&N train. When the 49 pro-suffrage delegates arrived in the chambers Saturday morning, there were a mere eight anti-suffrage delegates. The Tennessee suffrage women quickly sat at the desks of their rival legislators and despite great protest, the final procedural steps were completed, ratification of the house was done, and on to Governor Robert’s desk for certification. The Liberty Bell pealed out the joyous news to the Suffs.
The certification complete, the document was on its way to Washington for the signature of Secretary Colby. The rift between the NAWSA and NWP continued, each vying for presence during the signing. Colby, avoiding conflict, signed the proclamation at his home with no women, no cameras. The 19th Amendment entered the Constitution of the United States with neither Carrie Catt nor Alice Paul present.
Epilog: The Vanguard, the role of black women on the passage of the 19th Amendment.
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