Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
August 18, 2015
95 Years Ago Today…..
95 years ago, August 13, 1920, the 65th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee was meeting in Extraordinary Session, having convened on August 9.
Governor A. H. Roberts had called the men of the General Assembly into session to consider 142 “matters of compelling urgency” for the State, but it’s the first item on this list that gets all the attention:
1. To take action upon the amendment of the Constitution of the United States, proposed by Congress, giving women the full right of suffrage, being the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.
On August 10, Speaker of the Senate Andrew Todd introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1, “Relative to ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” and referred the resolution to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments.
On Friday, August 13, the Committee issued its majority report to the Senate:
“The Committee on Constitutional Amendments has carefully considered Senate Joint Resolution No. 1, and is of the opinion that the present Legislature has both a legal and moral right to ratify the proposed resolution.”
The report continued:
“National women’s suffrage by Federal Amendment is at hand; it may be delayed, but it cannot be defeated; and we covet for Tennessee the signal honor of being the 36th and last State necessary to consummate this great reform.”
Senator E. W. Haston then moved the adoption of SJR 1; the resolution was adopted by a vote of 25 Ayes, 4 Noes, and 2 Present not voting.
SJR 1 was then sent to the House of Representative for concurrence. Its fate would be determined on August 19, 1920.
On August 17, 1920, the House Committee on Constitutional Convention and Amendments issued its report to the House. The report declared:
“…the Legislature has the perfect right and the full power to adopt House Joint Resolution No. 1, ratifying the proposed Nineteenth Federal Amendment, giving suffrage to women, if such is its desire.
…Moreover, we take great pride in the fact that, to Tennessee has been accorded the signal distinction of passing a resolution which will secure the final adoption of the Nineteenth Federal Amendment, giving out mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and sweethearts a precious right which they have been so long unjustly denied. We heartily recommend the adoption of House Joint Resolution No. 1, ratifying the Nineteenth Federal Amendment, giving suffrage to women.”
Senate Joint Resolution No. 1, having been received by the House and laid over, was taken up by the House. Speaker of the House Seth Walker then made a simple motion: “to adjourn until tomorrow at 10:00 A.M.” The motion carried by a vote of 52 Ayes, 44 Noes.
On August 18, 1920, the House took up Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 under Unfinished Business.
Speaker Seth Walker moved the Resolution be tabled. That motion failed by a vote 48 Ayes, 48 Noes.
SJR 1 was then adopted by a vote of 50 Ayes, 46 Noes, with Speaker Walker and Representative Harry Burn changing their votes from Aye (table), to Aye (concur).
Explanations of votes were quickly offered
Representative J. E. Cassady: “I am unwilling to place the burden, resulting from the ratification of this amendment, upon the women of the country – paying poll tax, working on public roads, going to war, fighting side by side with men, which this amendment carries…. Being from the country, as I am, I shall stand for the country people, where they go I follow, their people are my people, their God my God, and now being forced to vote, I vote no. If I perish, I perish.”
Representative F. S. Hall: “I am convinced that a majority of the good women of Tennessee are against woman suffrage, and will resent the conferring of this privilege and duty against their wills.”
On August 19, 1920, Representative Harry Burn “on a point of personal privilege sent a statement to the Clerk’s desk, which he asked to be read…”
“I desire to resent in the name of honesty and justice the veiled intimation and accusation regarding my vote on the suffrage amendment…. I want to take this opportunity to state that I changed my vote in favor of ratification because:
(1) I believe in full suffrage as a right;
(2) I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify;
(3) I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”
However, the battle wasn’t quite over yet. On Saturday, August 21, 1920, an attempt was made to reconsider the House’s action on SJR 1. The motion failed by lack of a quorum, with only 59 Representatives present. The House would not have a quorum again until August 31.
On Tuesday, August 31, Representative F. S. Hall “moved that the Clerk of the House be and is hereby instructed to notify the Senate that the House had reconsidered its action on Senate Joint Resolution No. 1… and had non-concurred in the resolution, which motion prevailed.”
The only problem was SJR was no longer in possession of the House; it had already been sent to the Senate as being concurred in.
Gov. Roberts signed the certification paper August 24 that says Tennessee voted in favor of the Nineteenth Amendment, and the papers are sent to Washington, D.C.