Tennesseans should be proud of the historic role our state played in extending the right to vote to women


August 17, 2020 10:07AM

On a hot August evening 100 years ago, a young Harry T. Burn found himself hiding in the attic of the Tennessee State Capitol. He soon snuck out a window and quietly dropped to the ground, running away from the historic building to escape an angry mob that was out to get him and him alone.

What on earth had he just done that led to his predicament? He had cast the tie-breaking vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives in favor of women’s suffrage during a special session of the legislature. As the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, it was at that moment in history that women were granted the right to vote.

Rep. Burn walked into the House chamber that day wearing a red rose pinned to his lapel, signifying that he would vote “no” and prevent the 19th Amendment from becoming the law of the land. But like any good young man, Rep. Burn—at 24, the youngest state representative in history at the time—listened to his mother. In a last-minute letter, his mom urged him to break his heretofore silence and side with the suffragists. “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt,” her letter read. “I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet.”

Soon thereafter, Rep. Burn shocked his colleagues by calling out “aye” when his name was called. Anti-suffragists raged. Rep. Burn climbed into the attic of the Capitol to hide out until the mob quelled, and when they refused, he snuck out a window and scurried away.

And with that, Rep. Burn escaped with his hide intact. And women across America were finally granted their voice at the ballot box. While many credit Rep. Burn for his heroic act that ushered in the 19th Amendment, of course it was a woman, his mother, whose timely letter sealed the deal.

Tennesseans should be proud of the historic role our state played in extending the right to vote to women. This month, Beacon will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of this momentous occasion. We have temporarily changed our logo to reflect the yellow rose that served as the symbol of the suffragists, and we will be promoting the 19th Amendment and Tennessee’s role in it over the coming days. We will also recognize the strong women that have influenced our organization, our state, and our nation.

Moms, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, nieces, and all the women who make our lives what they are: thank you for all you do!