By the time the 19th Amendment passed on August 18, 1920, efforts for women to gain the right to vote had been in progress for over 70 years.
In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention adopted a Declaration of Sentiments, which included a resolution urging women to get the right to vote. After a number of tactics and legal arguments working within existing amendments failed, suffrage organizations and activists called for a new amendment to the Constitution.
The solution was for 36 of the 48 states to vote individually on the amendment. By June 1920, 35 states had passed it and Tennessee’s legislature convened in August. After furious lobbying, much of it at the Hermitage Hotel down the street from the Capitol, the day for the vote was set for August 12. Supporters of suffrage handed out yellow roses to those who joined them; opponents handed out red roses.
The resolution granting women’s suffrage passed easily in the Senate, 24-5. In the House of Representatives, it passed by one vote, when Republican Rep. Harry T. Burn changed his mind and voted to ratify based on a letter from his mother, dated July 11, that read in part: “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. . . Don’t forget to be a good boy.”
When the Tennessee General Assembly finalized the vote to ratify, a pro-vote woman sitting in the House chambers rang a miniature Liberty Bell in celebration.
Organizations across the Tennessee have held celebrations to mark the anniversary and the state’s role in giving women the right to vote. Photographer Alex Kent captured the celebration at the Hermitage Hotel Tuesday as women dressed in white, which suffragists wore to symbolize purity, and carrying bells and yellow roses, gathered to commemorate the event.