The War of the Roses: The Ratification of the 19 th Amendment in Tennessee

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The War of the Roses: The Ratification of the 19 th Amendment in Tennessee Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives It was early in the evening of June 4, 1919 when members of the Sixty-Six
The War of the Roses: The Ratification of the 19 th Amendment in Tennessee Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives It was early in the evening of June 4, 1919 when members of the Sixty-Six Congress of the United States reached the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, to become the 19 th Amendment upon ratification of 36 of the 48 states. Since 1878, 21 successive Congresses had rejected this federal Suffrage Amendment. But with passage in Congress secured, the battle-weary suffrage forces did not celebrate. In spite of over 70 years of petitioning, lobbying, politicking, and recently adopting the strategy of picketing, prominent women s rights leaders cautioned their foot soldiers that a fierce battle lie ahead on the horizon. They understood that a methodical, well-calculated strategy was needed in order to secure the 19 th Amendment a firm foothold in the supreme law of the land. Less than an hour after receiving word of the passage of the 19 th Amendment, 60 year-old Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), sat at her desk in the organization s New York headquarters hastily sending out telegrams to the governors of all states in which the legislatures had already adjourned for the term. Catt urged these governors to call a special session of their legislatures to act immediately on ratification. She then addressed each of the 48 state suffrage societies, admonishing them to commence their long-planned ratification campaigns to keep pressure on their governors where necessary and to lobby the men in their legislatures. After hours spent dispatching messages to her lieutenants, Catt took the time to read the congratulatory messages that were pouring in following the passage of the 19 th Amendment. Among these messages included a two-word cable from President Woodrow Wilson, who was in France at the Paris Peace Conference negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, that read: Glory Hallelujah! While there was no constitutional timetable imposed for ratification, the suffragists were eager to push the amendment through the state legislatures as quickly as possible. Although some cynics predicted that it would take 20 years for the amendment to become law, suffragists were determined to act both before memories of American women s contributions to the Allied victory (World War I) war effort faded and before the presidential 1920 election. Even more pressing for the suffragists was the psychological many Americans were becoming receptive to the Republican call for a return to normalcy. Thus it became imperative to proponents of woman suffrage to press the state governors and legislatures to ratify the 19 th Amendment before the spirit of progressive reform evident in early twentieth-century American society rescinded. Despite the apprehension of leading suffrage leaders, many predicted that ratification would be locked up prior to the celebration of Susan B. Anthony s 100 th birthday on February 15, Fifteen states had already bestowed full voting rights for women by state amendment and several foreign nations, primarily in Europe, were conferring suffrage on their women citizens. In the ensuing weeks several mid-western and northeastern states hastened to ratify the amendment with little opposition. Fourteen states had ratified the amendment in less than a month several other legislatures were poised to do so as well once their governor called them into special session. Woman suffrage appeared to be an issue whose time had come; however, events transpiring in a couple southern legislatures in the summer of 1919 revealed an ominous sign that indicated the road to ratification that lay ahead would be fraught with roadblocks. By mid-summer, the fervent pace of ratification slackened and then nearly grinded to a halt as both the Georgia and Alabama legislatures refused to ratify the amendment. In addition, the failure of western states, which had been the first to grant its women citizens full suffrage, to hasten to the aid of the suffragists and the resurgence of a fierce Anti-Suffragist opposition led many in the cause to become distressed. The suffragists answered by redoubling their efforts more meetings, more speeches, more lobbying for special sessions and votes for ratification, and more foot soldiers on the front lines. As the New Year dawned, the ratification total had reached 22 states. Then, as the anniversary of Anthony s birthday neared, there was a rush of states to ratify the amendment. New Jersey ratified the amendment on the anniversary of Anthony s birthday to become the 29 th state. Idaho and Arizona followed over the next two days. New Mexico joined the suffrage camp a week later, leaving 4 more states to ratify the amendment to make it the law of the land. The drama of ratification only further intensified as compelling narratives unfolded in the remaining states that propelled previously unknown state legislators and suffragists to instant fame, and in some states, infamy. In Oklahoma, some predicted that the vote would be close. Suffragist supporter Miss Aloysius Larch-Miller, ill with influenza and under orders from her doctor to rest, got up from her sickbed to confront a prominent Anti-Suffrage state politician in debate at the Democratic convention. Two days later, she was dead; however, her sacrifice proved invaluable as some legislators switched sides to join the suffragist camp and secure Oklahoma as the 33 rd state to ratify the 19 th Amendment. Nearly two weeks later, West Virginia lawmakers found themselves hopelessly deadlocked. State Anti-Suffragists sought to close up shop and head back home. But prosuffragist forces implored Senator Jesse A. Bloch to rush back home aboard a special train from California. Reporters tracked Bloch s five-day journey across the continent while his embattled colleagues fought mightily to fend off adjournment. Bloch arrived safely and cast the deciding vote that put West Virginia into the suffrage column. Then, another two weeks would pass before Washington came into the suffrage fold unanimously following the governor s procrastinated decision to call a special session. Who would be the next state to become forever heralded as the 36 th to ratify the 19 th Amendment, thereby making it the law of the land? Ratification of the 19 th Amendment was so close, so tantalizingly close. At the very moment suffragists could sense victory, the ratification campaign stalled for a second time. This second derailment for the suffragists did not bode well for their cause. In the previous months, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland echoed the course of action pursued by both the Georgia and Alabama legislature earlier to reject ratification. The only 7 states remaining to act were; Connecticut, Vermont, Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, Delaware, and Tennessee. Strong Anti-Suffragist Republican governors that remained steadfast in their refusal to consider calling their pro-suffrage legislators into special session controlled the New England states of Connecticut and Vermont. The prospect of Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida responding positively to the amendment was unlikely, especially given their memories of federally controlled elections during Reconstruction. The provision included in Section 2 of the Anthony Amendment, granting federal enforcement powers to Congress, sounded eerily familiar to provisions included in all federal amendments enacted since the end of the Civil War that southerners loudly protested. Southerners also objected to woman suffrage on the basis that a woman s place was in the home, that the Bible upheld male supremacy, and that allowing woman the vote would likely draw attention to the Jim Crow mechanisms put in place to disenfranchise black men. The question, of which state would become the Perfect 36, as a cartoonist labeled the elusive ratification, was to be decided between Delaware and Tennessee. Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution, stood poised to become the last state required to make national woman suffrage a reality. However, a bitter feud developed within the state Republican party that forestalled progress on ratification. When Republican Governor John G. Townsend came out publicly in support of the amendment, his Republican detractors, once firmly in the suffrage camp, switched sides and allied with the Anti-Suffragist Democrats. Therefore, when the roll was called on June 2, 1920, Delaware s state legislature defeated the measure. Thus, Tennessee proved to be the last hope for suffragists. Situated between pro-suffrage states to its north and west and anti-suffrage states to the south and east, Tennessee proved a pivotal border state in the struggle to secure ratification. Indeed, the last battle to be fought in the campaign for national woman suffrage proved to be a fierce engagement as suffs and antis (as they were sometimes called) converged on Nashville in the blazing summer of 1920 to do battle. Although the fight to secure ratification in Tennessee would be an arduous task, a wellorganized, well-staffed network of suffragists existed throughout the state s grand divisions East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The origins of the suffrage movement in Tennessee did not begin until the late 1800s. However, a talented corps of well-educated urban middle class and upper class women white and black that would assume prominent roles in the larger, national struggle to achieve woman suffrage also resided in each of Tennessee s key geographical regions. In 1889, Lide A. Meriwether formed the state s first women s suffrage league in Memphis. Maryville and Nashville followed suit in 1893 and 1894 respectively. By 1897, there were ten suffrage societies in Tennessee. Thus a solid base existed for a gathering of women for Suffrage Day at Centennial Park in Nashville that same year in which national leaders such as Jane Addams and Susan B. Anthony spoke to those in attendance. Later that year, Meriwether organized a statewide convention in Nashville that led to the formation of the Tennessee Equal Rights Association (TERA) and the election of Meriwether as its president. TERA was an affiliate of the National American Woman Association (NAWSA), whose president Carrie Chapman Catt, came to Memphis in 1900 to address the organization s second convention. Despite the initial wave of enthusiasm for woman suffrage in the Tennessee in the late 1890s, suffrage activity declined and the issue lay dormant in the state for several years as it did in most of its southern neighbors. Suffrage activity on the local level resumed in 1910 when Lizzie Crozier French, the founder of the East Tennessee Female Institute, formed a suffrage society in Knoxville. The following year, Anne Dallas Dudley, an active proponent of suffrage from a wealthy Nashville family, organized a society in her native city. Suffrage societies quickly sprang up throughout the state over the next 3 years with clubs formed in Morristown, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Franklin, Gallatin, and Murfreesboro. By the close of 1917, there were more than 70 suffrage societies in Tennessee. With the exception of Texas, no other southern state was so well organized. In the 1910s, local suffrage societies held parlor meetings, conducted house-to-house canvasses, sponsored public lectures, debates, and essay contests, distributed large quantities of literature, entertained potential proponents with teas, luncheons, and balls, saturated newspapers with suffrage information in hopes of winning their editorial support, and operated suffrage schools to make more effective workers of their members. Although the Tennessee women s suffrage movement received its direction from the NAWSA and its president Catt, the radical National Woman s Party (NWP) began to organize in the state as well. The NWP had formed in 1916 when Alice Paul, dissatisfied with NAWSA s methodical, diplomatic, and ladylike lobbying, bolted NAWSA with the intention to organize her own party to employ demonstrations, civil disobedience, and violence to achieve her demands. The NWP implemented their strategy in Washington, D.C. targeting the White House and President Woodrow Wilson. The radical suffragists picketed the White House 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with signs that twisted Wilson s words and compared the United States president to the German Kaiser. Sue Sheldon White of Jackson, Tennessee, who served as the state chair for the NWP, was arrested and spent five days in jail for burning an effigy of Wilson in front of the White House gates. From her vantage point in New York, Catt worried that divisions within Tennessee s suffrage ranks might derail any real chance at securing the state s ratification of the 19 th Amendment. Catt issued sharp letters to the state s suffrage leaders exhorting them to unite for the cause: The need for ratification in Tennessee is so important that all differences should be forgotten and an absolute united optimistic front turned toward the enemy. Do not underestimate the power of the opposition which will be applied to the thirty-sixth state. Opponents of woman suffrage sought to exploit these divisions. Josephine A. Pearson of Monteagle, who had taught in colleges in South Carolina and Missouri before returning home to care for her dying parents, spearheaded Tennessee s Anti-Suffragists. Pearson had joined the Anti-Suffragist crusade when she promised to fulfill her mother s dying wish to stamp out a woman suffrage amendment should it ever come to Tennessee. Pearson was aided by railroad, manufacture, and liquor interests that feared woman suffrage would lead to demands for higher wages for women, enactments of child labor laws, and prohibition. Anti-Suffragist leaders (Josephine A. Pearson, far right) pose alongside a Confederate veteran outside their headquarters in the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. Courtesy of Yellin and Sherman, The Perfect 36 While both the suffs and antis mobilized their armies and prepared to converge on Nashville to do battle, the state s chief executive pondered over a constitutional question which threatened to make ratification of the 19 th Amendment in Tennessee a moot point. Democratic Governor Albert H. Roberts decided that he could not issue a call for a special session of the current Tennessee legislature to act on ratification because of a restriction in the state constitution. According to Article II, Section 32: No convention or general assembly of this state shall act upon any amendment of the Constitution of the United States proposed by Congress to the several states; unless such convention or general assembly shall have been elected after such amendment is submitted. Since the current General Assembly had been elected into office in 1918, prior to Congress s submission of the 19 th Amendment to the states, the governor would be in violation of Tennessee s supreme charter should he call a special session. New York World cartoon that depicts a young suffragist asking Colonel Tennessee, the rustic older gentleman often used to represent Tennessee, for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly for the ratification of the 19 th Amendment. Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives To bolster his argument, Roberts cited a case regarding prohibition in Ohio in which the state s citizens had, by popular referendum, successfully overturned the legislature s ratification of the 18 th Amendment. Supporters of prohibition quickly filed a lawsuit, Hawke v. Smith, declaring the referendum illegal based on a provision within the state constitution that stated a popular referendum on any proposed federal amendment must be held prior to action taken by the legislature. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the amendment s supporters; however, on appeal, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Ohio voters could not overturn the state legislature s ratification of the 18 th Amendment by popular referendum. The Court s decision, issued by Associate Justice William R. Day on June 1, 1920, declared that the federal Constitution provided the procedure for the enactment of its own amendments and that the states had no authority to designate a different procedure: The determination of the method of ratification is the exercise of a national power specifically granted by the Constitution; that power is conferred upon Congress, and is limited to two methods, by action of the Legislature of three-fourths of the states, or conventions in a like number of states. It is not the function of courts or legislative bodies, national or state, to alter the method which the Constitution has fixed. Roberts s argument rebuffed, the governor still hesitated to act. Roberts was embroiled in a bitter reelection fight that pitted him against strong Republican opposition, which sensed an opening in light of the governor s tax reform program, which alienated farmers, as well as his support of management during the labor strikes of 1919, which alienated workers. He also faced challengers from within his own party for the nomination. Aware that the suffrage debate could only cost him more support among Democrats, Roberts preferred to delay until after the fall elections. But pressure continued to be applied on Roberts from both national and state prosuffragist supporters, the United States attorney general s office, and the state attorney general. In a June 19, 1920 letter to Governor Roberts, Sue White requested that he take immediate action to call for a special session of the General Assembly. On June 23, Assistant Attorney General W. L. Frierson, in response to the Supreme Court s recent ruling in Hawke v. Smith, issued an opinion that the power of a state legislature to ratify was derived from the federal Constitution and could not be taken away, limited or restrained by the constitution of a state. The next day, the Tennessee attorney general, Frank M. Thompson, declared that ratification by the present General Assembly would be legal. Still the governor refused to bulge. From Nashville s historic Maxwell House, a longtime hangout for state politicians, Catherine Talty Kenny, Chairman of Ratification for the Tennessee League of Women Voters, proposed a bold strategy for winning the support of Governor Roberts. In a June 21 letter addressed to NAWSA s headquarters, Kenny described the situation on the ground in Nashville. But alas our Governor is running for reelection and they are about to get his scalp. He is afraid to call the session because he can t afford to take time off from his campaign before the primary Aug. 5. Now here is our hope: In Tennessee we all swear by Woodrow Wilson, exhausting every adjective in our voluminous Southern vocabulary to praise and glorify his every word and deed. Yesterday I conceived the idea of having the President wire Governor Roberts a loving message telling him to deliver the 36 th state for the Democrats. I ve sent a telegram to the President tonight signed by our entire State Executive Board League of Women Voters. If you know any way in the world to get that telegram by Mr. Tumulty to the President, for the love of Mike help. Someone at NAWSA was able to circumvent Joe Tumulty, White House watchdog for the ailing President, to get the message into Wilson s hands. Wilson, sensing the potential that women voters could save his League of Nations, rushed a telegram, dated June 23, to Governor Roberts: It would be a real service to the party and to the nation if it is possible for you, under the peculiar provision of your State Constitution, having in mind the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Ohio case, to call a special session of the Legislature of Tennessee to consider the Suffrage Amendment. Allow me to urge this most earnestly. Finally, Governor Roberts announced that he w
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