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Journal / Culture

Bobby Votes For Women

When it comes to fighting for suffrage, Nashville has an interesting role. The ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the right to vote, took place in 1920. Tennessee was the 36th state to vote for the amendment—the final voted needed—and that vote took place in Nashville.

Because the vote was likely to be close, and because of Tennessee’s possible role of being the state that made the decision, Nashville, a hot bed of suffrage—pro and con—activity leading up to the vote. Everyone involved in the heated debate converged on the city to try to cajole others to their side. One woman who did some serious cajoling was Phoebe Ensminger Burn. Her son, Harry Burn, was a legislator who was leaning toward voting against ratification. His mother wrote him a letter and told him to “be a good boy” and vote for it. He did, breaking a tie, and, well, the rest is literally history.

You can learn more about Nashville’s role in this important step toward equality at the Votes for Women Room on the second floor of the main branch of the Nashville Public Library. The free exhibits in this room opened in 2020 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the ratification. The displays includes a timeline of events leading to the change in legislation and in-depth examination of race and racism in the efforts, underscoring the fact that the amendment gave white women the right to vote, but left women of color continuing to fight for decades. Materials in the room include photos, videos, and reproductions of historic posters and propaganda.

There’s also a life-size Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument sculpture by local artist Alan LeQuire in Centennial Park.