Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt don’t agree on much – other than that women should have the right to vote – but both are now confident that nationwide woman suffrage is imminent.

Today, Alice Paul announced that a poll of the Tennessee Legislature by the National Woman’s Party shows firm pledges by 13 Senators and 35 House members to vote in favor of ratifying the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Though 17 of 33 Senate votes and 50 of 99 House votes are needed to make Tennessee the 36th and final State needed to ratify, the number of unpledged legislators is large enough, and the number of those pledged to vote “no” is so small, that majorities in both Houses should be achieved when the roll is actually called soon after the legislature meets in special session 12 days from now.

Three days ago, the ever-optimistic Carrie Chapman Catt announced that sufficient pledges had been made to the National American Woman Suffrage Association and other pro-suffrage groups to make ratification a certainty, though she didn’t give specific numbers. Of course, adding an extra bit of suspense to the results is the fact that there will be a special election on August 5th to fill 13 vacancies, so the votes of these still-to-be-elected members of the Tennessee Legislature can’t be predicted.

Despite the fact that anti-suffragists are “on the ropes” in what looks like the last round of this 72-year bout, they aren’t ready to “throw in the towel” just yet. Today the Southern Women’s League for Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment asked Democratic Presidential nominee James Cox for a meeting. It’s highly unlikely that Governor Cox, who has been a strong supporter of suffrage for many years, and has two or three of his own paid staffers assigned to helping the ratification campaign in Tennessee, will be converted at this late date, but opponents are now desperate enough to give anything a try.

A "Suffrage Victory Map" put out in December of last year (1919) showing States where women had won full suffrage, partial suffrage and had no voting rights. States with stars had ratified the suffrage amendment by that time. The numbers seem to be how many women are eligible to register to vote in that State.

A “Suffrage Victory Map” put out in December of last year (1919) showing States where women had won full suffrage, partial suffrage and had no voting rights. States with stars had ratified the suffrage amendment by that time. The numbers seem to be how many women are eligible to register to vote in that State.

The telegram the anti-suffragists sent to Cox seems to acknowledge the positive effects the National Woman’s Party’s tactics are having on the campaign. Its actions such as picketing legislators who are opposed to suffrage, and creating a unique “Card Index” which has collected unprecedented amounts of information about legislators, and has proven quite valuable in lobbying, have clearly advanced the campaign for suffrage if opponents are complaining about these methods. The “antis” say that:

… homeloving women of the South, who do not picket, card-index or blackmail candidates, appeal to you as the leader of the Democratic Party to grant us a hearing, not on woman suffrage, which any State can adopt for itself without changing a comma of the Federal Constitution, but on two fundamental Democratic principles, State rights and party honor.

Suffrage opponents object to what they allege is a campaign by the national Democratic Party to “bring about the political conscription of our womanhood and the destruction of Southern civilization by using Federal patronage and party pressure to coerce the legislators of Tennessee into violating their solemn oaths of office and their State constitution.”

The reference to the State constitution has to do with the fact that the Tennessee Constitution contains a clause requiring a Statewide general election to intervene between the time a Federal amendment is submitted to the States and ratification by the Tennessee Legislature. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June in regard to another amendment seems to invalidate all restrictions on a State legislature’s ability to ratify an amendment at any time. So, most legal scholars now believe that it isn’t necessary for Tennessee legislators to wait until after the November elections to vote on the suffrage amendment.

In what appears to be another reference to the National Woman’s Party, some of whose members were sent to jail for picketing President Wilson, and were awarded a small pin in the shape of a jail cell door by the party after their release, the “antis” implored Cox not to affiliate himself with a small group of pickets “whose chosen symbol is a badge representing their jail terms for persecuting a Democratic President.” Cox stated late today that he would give opponents a hearing “at some convenient time” in the future. He has already had lengthy and productive meetings with representatives of the National Woman’s Party to plan mutual strategies for ratification, so it’s clear where his priorities lie, and which side has the momentum for victory.

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David Dismore

David became a lifelong admirer of the suffragists after briefly encountering them in a high school textbook in the early 1960s. Though missing out on that first part of the struggle for equality, he became active in "second wave" feminism through LA NOW in 1974 and has been a full-time feminist, TV news archivist, and women's history researcher at the Feminist Majority Foundation since its creation.