Friday, January 24, 2020
The Mother Who Salvaged Women’s Right to Vote
David Adler likened the situation of women not being able to vote to the American Revolution, in which colonists protested taxation without representation.
Tuesday, November 5, 2019


When Wood River Valley women pencil in their votes on their ballots today, they will be taking part in a time-honored ritual that was only granted to women 100 years ago.

“We’ve traveled a long way in the last 100 years with 10 million more Americans becoming eligible to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in June 1919,” says Constitutional Scholar David Adler. “But why did it take so long? It’s because women were dealt their cards from the bottom of the deck.”

The centennial of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote is near and dear to Adler’s heart.

The United States’ European allies gave women the right to vote before this country did. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

 He discussed the fascinating tale of how women got the vote--a story punctuated with intrigue--at a presentation at Ketchum’s Community Library. And he talked about it during the annual Conversations with Exceptional Women conference held by the Alturas Institute in September.

American women could not buy or sell property during the nation’s infancy. They were “under the cover” of their husbands, thanks to old English law.

“The thinking was that women didn’t need to speak for themselves—their husbands could,” Adler said. “A woman’s place was to have children and keep hearth and home. Politics were considered too dirty for fragile women.”

Women didn’t necessarily agree.

None other than Abigail Adams told her husband John, the second president of the United States, “Don’t forget the ladies,” as he headed out to craft a new nation at the Continental Congress.

He—and others—did forget, or dismiss, the ladies. And 70-some years later in 1848 women rallied to hold the first national convention to promote women’s rights at Seneca Falls, N.Y. “A few good men” also attended, including Frederick Douglass, the former slave-turned-abolitionist, noted Adler.

They penned something resembling the Declaration of Independence, saying that all men AND women are created equal and that women should have the right to vote.

That, too, was ignored by the men in power. But Susan B. Anthony managed to turn the tables when she convinced U.S. Sen. Aaron Sargent (R-Calif.) to introduce women’s suffrage to Congress during a long train ride from California to Washington, D.C., in 1872. But, again, white males had no interest in passing the Susan B. Anthony amendment when it was finally introduced in 1878.

Out west it was a different matter. The first territorial legislature of the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage in 1869, with a Laramie woman becoming the first to cast a vote in September 1870. Colorado followed suit in 1893 and Utah and Idaho in 1896.

“The men outnumbered the women 2-1 in the state of Wyoming in the late 19th century. And they thought giving women the right to vote might attract more women to the state,” Adler said.

By the 1916 election, 16 states had given women the right to vote, prompting Woodrow Wilson to realize that he and others could be defeated if they did not support it.

In 1918 he delivered a speech noting that women had filled the jobs of men who had gone to war, their  performance critical to the nation’s security, and so they deserved the right to vote. Moreover, he added, women—not men—had given birth to those serving in the army.

Congress passed the amendment but it needed 36 states to ratify it. With 35 states saying “Aye,” all eyes turned to Tennessee. as the only one left that could take a vote that year.

Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida refused to consider the resolution. And the rest of the Deep South was entrenched against it.

The Tennessee governor called a special session and armies of suffragettes and anti-suffragette lobbyists invaded the Volunteer State. The War of the Roses erupted as lobbyists from Jack Daniels showed up, pouring plenty of liquid bribes against the amendment for fear women would continue prohibition if they got the right to vote.

In fact, bribes to vote against the amendment became so prolific that suffragettes were placed at railroad stations to turn back anyone approaching an amendment supporter with a suitcase.

“Those against felt the passage of the 14th amendment giving black Americans the right to vote had put them under the subjugation of blacks,” Adler said. “We will not let Tennessee be terrorized by women, especially black woman, they said. Let’s not let down our southern neighbors, they said. Women have a place—it’s in the home. If they vote who’s going o be at home to raise the children?”

At one point, the governor thought he had the vote only to have the speaker of the House change his mind after being offered the promise of governorship if he would keep the amendment from being passed.

On the eve of the vote, anti-suffragettes sent fake telegrams to amendment supporters telling them, they needed to return home because their wife or child was on their death beds.

When one amendment supporter received a telegram that his wife was dying, the House minority  leader arranged for a wealthy man to charter a private train so the legislator could get home and, if his wife was okay, return in time for the vote.

When another received a telegram that his baby was dying, another private train was chartered for him so he could sneak out at night, rush home and rush back.

 As the vote neared its conclusion, it was tied 48-48, despite lobbyists who had been allowed to come forward, Jack Daniels in hand and money in their pockets.

The tiebreaker was a 24-year-old named Harry Burns, who had been the youngest ever elected to the legislature.

He wore a red rose on his lapel signifying his opposition to ratifying the amendment. And he had voted against it twice during earlier roll calls.

But, when it came his time to vote this time, he blurted out a quick “Aye.” And with that the 70-year battle for suffrage came to a close

“In his suit pocket was a letter from his mother Febb E. Burn in which she asked him to ‘be a good boy’ and vote for the amendment,” Adler said. “She wrote, ‘As you know, I’m an advocate for the 19th amendment. I hope you will do the right thing and vote for America.’ ”






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