Opinion: Happy Birthday, 19th Amendment (And thanks to Harry T. Burn’s mom)


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The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Today is the 90th anniversary the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the one that gave women the right to vote after a full century of organization, agitation and marching.


On this date in 1920 the Tennessee General Assembly became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, thus making it official.

Few folks remember, however, that the historic ratification occurred by just one single vote, a man, of course, in those days.

It was Harry T. Burn, a lawyer and later a banker. He had settled on his opposition to this suffrage nonsense.

The General Assembly suffrage amendment vote came up a 48-48 tie. Burn’s vote would defeat it and postpone national ratification at least another month until the Connecticut Legislature vote.

But shortly before the historic legislative tally, Harry T. Burn received a long letter from his mother back home in Niota.

She said, in part:

I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy.


Harry T. Burn behaved himself. He changed his ‘nay’ vote to ‘yea.’

The rest has become history.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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