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Tending the chicken house

Dawn Hankins
Posted 8/15/20

When I was a young girl growing up on a Bedford County farm, it was the women in the family who worked the chicken house. My grandmother was no different, so she was too busy to concern herself with politics. Still, I would like to think she was proud of how her mother’s generation set a few ‘Tennessee roosters’ straight in 1920...

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Tending the chicken house

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When I was a young girl growing up on a Bedford County farm, it was the women in the family who worked the chicken house. My grandmother was no different, so she was too busy to concern herself with politics. Still, I would like to think she was proud of how her mother’s generation set a few ‘Tennessee roosters’ straight in 1920.

Tennessee played a pivotal role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. By that summer, 35 of the 36 states necessary had ratified the amendment. Eight states had rejected the amendment; five had not voted. Suffragists saw Tennessee as their last, best hope for ratification before the 1920 presidential election. Gov. Albert H. Roberts called a special session of the General Assembly on Aug. 9 to consider the issue. Pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage activists from around the state and the country descended on Nashville, intent on influencing the legislature. (TN.gov)

The summer of 1920 was one of intense pro- and anti-suffrage activity in Nashville. After the resolution passed easily in the Tennessee State Senate, both sides lobbied furiously to secure votes in the state House of Representatives where the vote became extremely close. When 25-year-old Harry T. Burn of Niota changed his vote to support ratification, he helped break a tie in the House of Representatives. On Aug. 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly made history, voting to approve the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Opponents worked feverishly to rescind the ratification vote on constitutional technicalities. Some anti-suffrage legislators even fled the state in an attempt to prevent a quorum in the General Assembly. Their efforts failed, and on Aug. 24, 1920, Gov. Albert H. Roberts certified Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Two days later, U. S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation that officially declared the ratification of the 19th Amendment and made it part of the United States Constitution. Tennessee provided the 36th and final state needed to ratify the landmark amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Here’s something interesting about Bedford County’s part in giving women the right to vote. The men representing Bedford County ( at the state level) all voted ‘no.’

My friend Carol Roberts who works with the state library and is now also Bedford County’s archivist, gave me some really interesting information recently. Thanks Carol!

It seems Roy Hamilton Parks and Larkin Whitaker, who back then represented Bedford and Moore Counties, both voted ‘no.’ Joe Seb Crawford, who represented only Bedford County in the House, changed his vote. He was going to vote ‘yes’ to fall in line with national and state leaders, but he received a petition from Bedford County citizens who wanted him to vote ‘no.’ Not hard to guess what happened then.

After the vote: "I herewith hand to the Clerk of the house petitions signed by approximately two thousand citizens of my county requesting me to change my vote on the reconsideration of the Nineteenth Amendment and on the ground that the overwhelming majority of my people which I represent are against this amendment. I voted for this amendment originally because it was recommended both by National and State Democratic conventions and I was voting in accordance with what I deemed the will of my constituents. However, I find that the majority of my constituents, in accordance with the above mentioned petitions, are opposed to this amendment. This is the sole reason for the change of my vote. I desire that this explanation be spread up on the Journal of the House." (House Journal 1920)

But as the old cigarette ad (which used art to support women’s movement) used to state, “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby.”

Thanks to Mr. Harry T. Burn of East Tennessee, who abided by his mother’s advice (what a great son) women in America were finally granted the right to vote in 1920. In the 100 years since, women have cast their votes right here in Bedford County.

Women now run many political offices at the city and county level. Lots of local women now own their own businesses, run family farms as businesses and others serve their community well through various clubs and non profits.

I urge women to go to the polls on Nov 3. Remember what women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sacrificed to give you this right under the 19th amendment. Be smart. Use your vote wisely for the betterment of this country.

Incidentally, Harry T. Burn’s mother was a very educated woman for her time. So Harry knew she was giving him good advice, we believe. Still, she would return to something she was really good at, running the family farm. I’m sure she too tended the chickens.

Dawn Hankins is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.

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