The 19th Amendment gave the right to vote to American women. The struggle for women’s suffrage had been long and hard, dating back to before the Civil War. The 19th Amendment was finally ratified on 18 August 1920. 36 states had to ratify the amendment for it to become law, and Tennessee was the last of the 36 to do so.
The early campaign for votes for women.
In the early years of the new United States, it was accepted by most men that women should be homemakers and mothers. They need not concern themselves with politics, as American men were perfectly able to run the country.
In 1848, at the Seneca Falls Convention, the issue of women’s rights took its place on the national stage. Central to the demands outlined at this Convention was the call for votes for women. 300 people attended the Convention, which included a few men sympathetic to the cause.
Women’s Rights groups started up across the country after this Convention. Many saw it as a clarion call for action. Conferences were held, speeches made, and the demand for women’s suffrage became a matter that could not be ignored.
The Aftermath of the Civil War.
The Civil War divided America, bringing misery and strife in its wake. Women campaigners turned their attention to war efforts in support of their respective sides. The proposed 15th Amendment divided opinion among women’s rights activists.
The 15th Amendment set out to enfranchise black men. Some women’s rights campaigners wanted to press for women’s voting rights to be included. Others thought the amendment might fall if that was done.
Once the 15th Amendment was passed – without reference to voting rights for women – and the Civil War ended, women campaigners picked up their banners again. Two organizations were formed to push for voting rights. These were the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).
One early success came in 1869, when Wyoming Territory gave women residents who were 21 and over the right to vote. Despite an attempt to pass an amendment to the US Constitution failing in 1886, Wyoming kept votes for women as part of its Constitution when it became a state in 1890. As a result, Wyoming is still known as the Equality State.
Before the turn of the century, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado amended their constitutions to grant women voting rights. This led the new National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to adopt tactics meant to persuade individual states to introduce women’s suffrage. 16 more states did so before 1918.
The final push for the vote.
The aim, though, was to get the amendment passed that would guarantee votes for women on a national level. Marches were held, more speeches made, and a massive parade took place in Washington DC the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Wilson at first opposed votes for women, but after World War I, changed his mind as a result of the role women had played in securing victory over Germany. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1918, the 19th Amendment finally passed through Congress in 1919. It depended on ratification by 36 states for the amendment to become a part of the Constitution.
Most southern states were opposed, and by the summer of 1920, with 35 states having ratified, it was up to Tennessee whether the amendment would pass. The southern states that objected looked to Tennessee to stop the amendment. The legislature tied at 48 for and 48 against. A young Representative named Harry T Burn was the last to vote. It is rumored that he obeyed his mother and voted in favor of the amendment!
The amendment was certified by the US Secretary of State on 26 August 1920, and women across the whole United States were able to vote.