May 13, 2020 Feature

My Mother Made Me Do It: A Short History of the Nineteenth Amendment

Mothers were a driving force behind passing the amendment.

Hon. M. Margaret McKeown

Download a printable PDF of this article.

Mothers have been the inspiration and driving force behind many wonderful things, but perhaps none so historic as the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

In the summer of 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was on the brink of ratification. Thirty-five of the 36 required states had voted to ratify the amendment. Eight states had rejected the amendment, which left only five to cast the final deciding vote. Hoping to pass the amendment before the 1920 presidential election, suffragists believed Tennessee was their best hope for ratification. Indeed, Florida and North Carolina waited another 50 years to approve ratification.

Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts, a supporter of the amendment, called a special session of the state’s general assembly to consider ratification. Thousands of suffragists and anti-suffragists made the pilgrimage to Tennessee, flooding the capital to influence the lawmakers. One anti-suffragist broadside read: “MEN of the SOUTH: Heed not the song of the suffrage siren. Seal your ears against her vocal wiles. . . . DO NOT JEOPARDIZE the present prosperity of your sovereign States, which was so dearly bought by the blood of your fathers and tears of your mothers.” Supporters on both sides viewed the vote as a broader battle between good and evil, and their rhetoric and tactics followed accordingly. Legislators received late-night phone calls threatening professional, financial, and political ruin. In the spirit of the day, some accepted bribes. Those known to have a weakness for whiskey were liquored up in the Jack Daniels suite, with the hope that their hangovers would be brutal enough to keep them from the voting roll call.

Illustration by Susan Gal

Illustration by Susan Gal

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now