Tennessee Casts the Deciding Vote to Ratify the 19th Amendment
On June 4, 1919, the 66th U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. To complete the adoption of the amendment (which would give women the right to vote), three-fourths of the states had to ratify the amendment.
In Tennessee, Governor A. H. Roberts convened the General Assembly on August 9, 1920. Among those in the legislative body was Harry T. Burn (R) of McMinn County, the youngest member of the House. He was not pledged to either side of the issue.
Ratification was a hard fought battle in Tennessee. Suffragists and Antis had been in Nashville all summer preparing for the fight. Both sides made the Hermitage Hotel their headquarters during this time.
On August 19, 1920, the amendment came up for a vote amid yellow roses worn by the suffragists and red roses worn by the antis. A motion was made to table the amendment. If that motion passed, the 19th Amendment would be dead in Tennessee. The motion was defeated by a tie vote.
A vote on the original motion, the ratification of the 19th Amendment, was called for. The ratificationists knew they had 48 votes, one short of a majority of 49. As the roll was called, Harry T. Burn was the member of the General Assembly who cast the much-needed 49th vote. The motion passed 49 to 47.
Why had Harry T. Burn voted to ratify the 19th Amendment? This is how Mr. Burn explained his vote to his colleagues on the House floor the day after the vote:
“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”
Mrs. J. L. Burn of Niota, Tennessee, had written the following letter to her son and he had it in his pocket on August 19, 1920:
Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! 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. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt (Carrie Chapman Catt) put the “rat” in ratification.