August 12, 1920: Suffragists Optimistic in Tennessee

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


The week may have begun badly for suffrage forces, but it looks as if it will end with a victory.

Tennessee House and Senate Committees on Constitutional Conventions and Amendments held a joint three-hour hearing earlier this evening on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which would guarantee women in all States the same voting rights as men. Afterward, it was said that there will be a favorable report by the Senate committee delivered tomorrow, and the House committee is expected to give an equally positive report on Monday, the 16th. If the ratification resolution is reported to the full Senate tomorrow it will get that body’s approval within an hour, according to Senate Speaker Andrew Todd.

Todd is not alone in his optimism, as the momentum seems to have shifted once again, now swinging back to “Votes for Women” advocates just when it counts. Governor Albert Roberts, who has been personally lobbying for suffrage among the legislators, said tonight that adoption of the ratification resolution by both houses was assured “unless something miraculous occurs.”

Suffrage leaders are now expressing views much cheerier than those of just two days ago when stunned by still-unexplained defections in the Senate and House. But with many previously uncommitted legislators now jumping on the bandwagon and pledging for suffrage, there are now predictions not just of victory, but speculations on how great a victory it will be. The most optimistic poll shows 24 votes for ratification in the Senate, 17 out of 33 being needed, and 60 in the House, where 50 out of 99 are required.

Anita Pollitzer talking to members of the Tennessee Legislature in front of the National Woman’s Party’s campaign headquarters in Nashville.

Though outwardly confident that they can still defeat ratification, anti-suffragists are apparently so desperate that they are counting on the fact that the Senate vote will be taken on Friday the 13th to be useful to their cause, and are hoping for bad luck to strike the suffragists. But it was the “antis” who had the bad luck today, as they lost one potentially powerful weapon in their arsenal. It had been feared that Speaker of the House Seth Walker, who switched to the anti-suffrage forces two days ago, might use his power to delay a vote on suffrage indefinitely if his side appeared to be losing. But today he said that if if he and his forces were in for a defeat, he “would not delay the game but would take it right away.” Senate Speaker Todd said that filibustering on this issue would not be permitted, so there appear to be no obstacles to a vote in the near future.

An encouraging sign of suffrage strength occurred earlier today in the House, when a resolution that would have prohibited any consideration of the ratification resolution during this special session, due to alleged “constitutional questions,” was rejected by a voice vote. Only three members, two less than the required number, even asked for a formal roll call. Like yesterday’s victory over a measure to postpone consideration until August 24th, this still isn’t the same as a vote on ratification itself, but it’s a very positive sign.

Today saw the Democrats apply national pressure on the State legislators in the same way the Republicans did yesterday. Governor Cox, the Democratic nominee for President, was giving a speech at Camp Perry, Ohio, when upon hearing what turned out to be an erroneous report that a vote on ratification would be taken tonight, immediately dictated the following message to be telegraphed to the Democratic legislators in Tennessee:

The platform presented to the country by a political party in not only an evidence of intent but of good faith as well. It carries specifications which will be rendered if the opportunity presents. In the modern and better day of American politics it is regarded as a promissory note. The National Democratic Convention declared for the principle of woman suffrage and pledged the party to an earnest effort toward its adoption. The Democracy of Tennessee has the chance to redeem the pledge given and I earnestly hope that it will not hesitate in the face of manifest duty.

Legislator pledges, party platforms, expressions of support for suffrage by State and national figures, and polls by even the most politically astute suffrage groups are all significant, but can’t actually ratify a Constitutional amendment. Seventeen members of the Tennessee Senate and fifty in the House can complete the process of ratification by voting in favor. If they approve, the proposed Susan B. Anthony Amendment will have its 36th ratification, be formally proclaimed as the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when the Secretary of State certifies it as properly ratified, and the 72-year battle over whether women should have exactly the same voting rights as men will be settled once and for all in the affirmative.

Though there’s renewed confidence among members of the National Woman’s Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association tonight, there’s anxiety as well, as the week’s events have reminded everyone of just how unpredictable politics can be. But as the Senate roll call approaches and suffragists hope to take this almost-final step toward political equality in just a few hours, no one doubts that everything that could have been done to insure a victory has been done, and that there will be absolutely no slackening of efforts until the final vote is cast in the House as well.

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