Today, August 18, was the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. It all came down to one vote in the Tennessee legislature.
Harry Burn, a 24 year old Republican, who had stated his intention to vote against it, changed his mind after receiving a letter from his mother, encouraging him to vote for it.
“Don’t forget to be a good boy…” she reminded him. He voted for the amendment, thus breaking the tie, and leading to the final ratification.
When, after his vote, he was subjected to attacks on his honor and integrity, he simply stated, “I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification."
Here are a few lessons I draw from this story:
- It’s usually a good idea to listen to your
- Even one vote can change history.
- Standing alone is not easy, but can be very
- Doing the right thing, being a good boy (or
girl) in the face of strong opposition is hard. It takes what 12-step folks
describe as a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
- Doing the right thing almost always draws condemnation from the forces on the other side.
- This all happened within the living memory of
people still alive today. It is not ancient history. Many of the ideas and
attitudes of the men who opposed ratification are still with us today. Remember
that the Equal Rights Amendment that promised all the rights guaranteed under
the Constitution were granted to women as well as men, which was proposed just
three years after ratification of the 19th Amendment, did not pass Congress until
1972, and never became a part of the Constitution because it only passed in 35
of the 38 state legislatures that were required.
- This is not over. Before the last election the hashtag #repealthe19th began to appear.
- The rights that Thomas Jefferson saw as "self-evident," that are enshrined in the "Declaration of Independence," are not evident to everyone.
- Harry Burn died in 1977. He was to witness 15 national elections where women were able to vote, but he never saw the security of their rights established into the Constitution. For that we are all waiting.