One Man - One Vote - One Mom
Although women did not have the right to vote until 1920, the early twentieth century was surely a thrilling time to be alive. Technology and electricity had intersected with domestics and brought brand new electric appliances into the home. These plug-in stoves and washers simplified life, giving women freedom to seek opportunities outside the house. Model-Ts bustled people across the country, and relocated women from life on the farm to adventures in the city. Hairstyles were short and dress hems were lifted, which made hopping into a young man's Tin Lizzie all that much easier. A breezy, contagious spirit filled the air. It energized the women's movement, pushed it forward, and culminated in a proposed 19th amendment to give women the right to vote. By the summer of 1920, only one state, Tennessee, stood between women and final ratification.
Advocates, politicians and the press inundated Nashville that muggy August in what was called the "War of the Roses." The pro-suffrage forces had been pressing Congress to vote for decades and they sported the yellow rose, a symbol for suffrage. "Antis" of both sexes, believing that women's domain was in the home, wore the American Beauty red rose to symbolize Southern womanhood and femininity. There were the undecided types who pinned yellow roses with red stripes, or red roses with yellow stripes, to their lapels. A final understated yet influential group could be termed "closet yellows." They were the women and men who watched from the sidelines and cheered silently for the suffragists.
One such closet yellow was Febb Ebsinger Burn, a name unrecognizable to all but history buffs and a few Tennessee residents. She was the mother of Harry Burn, a 24-year old freshman legislator in the state house of Tennessee who was one of the undecided types regarding the 19th amendment.
Febb, a strong-willed, college woman and widow, managed her family farm in Notina. She drove a black Tin-Lizzie, followed international affairs and read four newspapers daily. She watched closely the fight over the 19th amendment, as her friends and family were bitterly divided. More importantly, her legislative son had remained silent on the raging contest and she wanted to know his opinion. Febb sat down and penned a letter to Harry that would serve to transform the history of women.
She was well aware that thirty-five states had already approved the 19th amendment and thirty-six were required to set it into law. And she knew that there were no other state options - Tennessee was the last remaining hope for the suffragists to pass the amendment. Febb wasted no time - her first words tell Harry, "Hurrah and vote for suffrage. Don't keep them in doubt. Be a good boy and vote for ratification." Her letter closed with the hope that Harry had "seen enough of politicians to know that it is not one of the greatest things to be one!"
Harry received her letter the morning of the vote, which he stuffed into his vest pocket next to the red rose on his lapel. He headed to the state house, dodging the swarm of pros, antis, reporters and curious onlookers blocking his way.
Speaker of the House, Seth Walker, also wearing a red rose, had contrived a series of parliamentary maneuvers designed to play both sides. He planned to bury the 19th amendment under mounds of legal debris, where it would rot in Constitutional limbo until after the November election. The first vote to banish the law tied 48 to 48, requiring a second vote. It must have been between these two rounds that Harry read his mother's letter.
Walker rushed through the next session so quickly that he didn't notice when Harry changed his vote to 'aye." When the final tally read 49 to 47 in favor of suffrage, pandemonium let loose. Outraged Antis screamed at Harry, and someone offered to pay him $10,000 to change his vote. Laugher, shouting, dancing and sounds of singing filled the giant halls. A rain of rose petals floated down from the balconies, drifting into soft yellow piles. Telegraphs pounded the news across the land, while reporters raced to be the first to print the August 18, 1920 headline, "Nineteenth amendment ratified by one vote!"
Harry later explained he had always believed in suffrage, that it was the country's moral responsibility to let women vote. He unabashedly credited his final vote to his mother, "I know that a mother's advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification."
Harry failed to heed his mother's other warning however, the one about being around politicians - he remained in state politics most of his career.
I imagine she forgave him.
You say suffragette, I say suffragist...is there a difference?
The dictionary defines suffrage as simply the right to vote.
The words were used interchangeably, although in the early 1900's, subtle distinctions applied.
Suffragette was a somewhat derisive term coined by a London newspaper that referred to militant members of the women's movement who set fires, chained themselves to posts, or went to jail. As suffrage became more accepted, the word lost its negative connotation overseas, while protestors in America adopted its insulting use here.
"Suffragist" became the preferred term for men, women, conservative and liberal supporters who were peaceful advocates of suffrage. After the 19th amendment, the words were once again used interchangeably, with minor differences known only to trivia-minded researchers!