This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Talk about an election story that will have you on the edge of your seat.
For the last few weeks here in the U.S. we’ve talked and argued so much over election results and flipping states and razor-thin voting margins and when we’ll finally be able to move forward from this recent election.
But today I want to retell a different election story that has a very important vote-flip in it. And the bonus of this story is that a hotel plays a central role.
Yep—it’s the story of women’s suffrage, a story that got a little lost in the shuffle this year. While 2020 has all sorts of distinctions now that we’d probably like to forget, it does mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the U.S.
I’m ashamed that I had never truly heard the full story about this wild and crazy ratification process before this year. But I follow Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel on Instagram and their social media team has done a fantastic job telling the story over the last few months, alongside the role the hotel played.
Here’s the basic synopsis: By 1920, Congress had passed the 19th Amendment and 35 states had ratified it. One more ratification was required for the Amendment to join the Constitution and it came down to Tennessee—the only state left where the suffrage movement thought they had some footing.
The summer before the vote, lobbyists and activists for both sides descended on Nashville and took over the Hermitage, open for a decade by then and located just down the street from the Tennessee Capitol. The suffragists held meetings and laid their strategy in some rooms, while the pro-liquor lobby took over the rest of the hotel, buying votes against suffrage with booze, Prohibition be damned. The liquor lobby, made up of factory owners and related interests, were against suffrage because they feared more women voting would lead to tougher labor and temperance laws.
Just imagine it: Summertime in Nashville is hot as the devil, and you’ve got the women in their hats and skirts fighting their way through the drunk men spilling over the mezzanine and lobby, both sides absolutely certain their position is right.
As the suffragists secured a delegate’s promise, they pinned a yellow rose on his lapel. Antis wore red roses. Fistfights were regular occurrences at the hotel, and each side tried to intimidate and out-do each other with banners and pamphlets.
On the day of the vote, it came down to the youngest state representative, 24-year-old Harry Burn. He came into the Capitol on voting day wearing a red rose. The hot August day wore on and it came down to a final roll-call vote to ratify or nullify the amendment. Previous votes had resulted in a 48-48 tie, and Burn had voted to table the amendment in all those previous votes.
But in the final roll call, despite his earlier votes and red rose, Burn flipped his vote and voted in favor.
The shouts and pandemonium were heard all the way back at The Hermitage, the stories say.
So what made Harry Burn flip his vote, in that deadlock? Turns out he carried a letter from his mother in his jacket pocket that day—a letter in which his mother, after talking about that summer’s small-town goings-on, closed with the line, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage. And don’t keep them in doubt.”
The morals of this story of course are ones we’ve revisited this year too, 100 years later: Voting matters. And mom’s usually right.
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