In 1920 Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old delegate in the Tennessee General Assembly, heeded his mother’s admonishment in a letter to be “a good boy” and vote for women’s suffrage.
Burn did as he was told, and Tennessee — by the margin of one vote — became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution.
Congress officially certified the 19th amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, a date now celebrated annually as Women’s Equality Day.
To honor the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village is hosting a Smithsonian poster exhibit, “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence!”
The exhibit runs through Nov. 3 — the date for the 2020 presidential election.
“We’re excited to have this here,” Stephanie Black, the museum’s executive director, said regarding the exhibit. “It’s very interesting and very diverse.”
The posters highlight more than seven decades of struggle to earn women a place in America’s political life. But, it also reveals the racism that separated white and black suffragists who worked toward the same goal. In the end, black women, including activists Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells, were marginalized and the 19th amendment won only white women the right to vote.
Black women and black men in the South waited another 45 years for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Native American women won legal citizenship and the right to vote in 1924. But they, like black men and women, suffered racist attacks that denied their access to the ballot box.
Even with its limitations, the 19th amendment shook up the political and cultural world of America.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said political scientist Susan MacManus. “It shows that a lot of things in the political world take time because the work takes a while.”
Today, women are filing to run for political offices in local, state and national races in numbers never seen before. MacManus counts 178 Florida women seeking office in 2020 – a record for the state.
Pollsters are focused intently on the women’s vote and its impact on dozens of races across the country, including the presidential contest.
But now, as in 1920, MacManus said people make a mistake in thinking women vote as a bloc.
All women didn’t support the 19th amendment. Anti-suffrage clubs did their own protesting.
Women today also hold diverse opinions on everything.
“That’s never been truer than in politics,” MacManus said.
For some suffragists, the 19th amendment came too late.
Susan B. Anthony, who wrote the ‘Anthony amendment’ for women’s right to vote, didn’t live to see it approved. She cast an illegal ballot in New York in 1872. She was arrested, but refused to pay the $100 fine.
Women voted in the first presidential election in 1920 ushering Republican Warren G. Harding into the White House. Records suggest women represented about 36% of the electorate. It’s likely some women asked their husbands for voting advice.
Slowly over the years, women began running for office, at first mostly in local elections. They became role models for women who came behind them.
Many black women can trace their modern political activism to college sororities who organized for suffrage as well as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, MacManus said.
Black women students from Howard University and Delta Sigma Theta were among those who marched in Washington D.C., in 1913. White organizers feared offending Southern lawmakers and told black women to march in the rear of the parade.
But, Wells boldly caught up with the white Illinois delegation and walked with them, refusing to be ignored and segregated.
Sororities set up picket lines outside the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. “Some stayed until the bitter end,” said MacManus.
Wilson eventually threw his support to the suffragists.
MacManus said Kamala Harris comes from that tradition as a Howard University graduate and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Harris made history last week by becoming the first woman of color running on a major political party’s ticket as vice president.
In Florida, black women have role models, including Carrie Meek, Frederica Wilson and Val Demings.
“More women are getting into politics and lot of that is driven by more women than men — by far — going to college,” MacManus said. “This is especially true with minority women.”
The #MeToo movement also has had an impact, the political scientist said.
By 1980, a voting gender gap emerged as more women than men voted in each of the last nine presidential elections.
A record number of 100 women held seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, in 2018. About 90 are Democrats. But, a growing number of Republican women also are seeking elected office.
According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, about 200 Republican women are running for House seats in 2020, an increase from 133 candidates in 2018.
“We’re raising our numbers,” said Sandy Graves, who won in the Aug. 18 Primary Election in the race for Republican State Committee Chairwoman for Pasco County. “We’re working very hard to try and encourage women to get in there.”
Graves is a lifelong Republican and especially honored to win an election in a year that celebrates women’s right to vote.
The amendment “was a hard-fought battle,” she said. “It is a testament to our country.”
She noted that Florida didn’t ratify the amendment until 1969, when Claude Kirk was the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
The Pasco County Commission had planned to recognize the 100th anniversary, as well as the month of March as women’s history month, but that was delayed due to COVID-19 concerns.
Several women in past and current leadership roles will be honored when the recognition takes place, including former County Administrator Michele Baker, former Clerk and Comptroller Paula O’Neil, County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Assistant County Administrator Cathy Pearson.
Cheryl Pollock said the event will be scheduled once the county commission is again able to meet in person.
Pollock is the first black woman to serve as chair of the county’s Commission on the Status of Women. She joined the commission about three years ago.
“While there are limited women of color in leadership roles in our county, the county itself is slowly growing in diversity based on census reports,” Pollock said, via email.
She also said the Commission on the Status of Women is dedicated to “strive to understand disparate issues of women in our community and work toward solutions.”
A poster exhibit from the Smithsonian, “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence!”
Where: Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City
When: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Nov. 3
Cost: $10 general admission adults; $8 for seniors; $5 for students; free for children under age 5; group rates available
Info: (352) 567-0262 or PioneerFloridaMuseum.org.
Timeline for Women’s Suffrage
1848: Seneca Falls, New York convention; “Declaration of Sentiments” issued
1850: First National Woman’s Convention
1866: Suffragists sent petition to Congress requesting women’s right to vote
1872: Susan B. Anthony arrested in New York for voting illegally. Fined $100, but never pays
1878: Susan B. Anthony wrote the “Anthony amendment”
1890s: National Association of Colored Women founded by Mary Church Terrell
1909: National Suffrage Party founded
1910: Suffrage parades begin
1913: Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns; Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago founded by journalist Ida B. Wells
1913: More than 10,000 women march for suffrage in Washington D.C.; Ida B. Wells defiantly marches with Illinois delegation, refusing to be segregated
1917: College women begin picketing White House
1917: Anthony Amendment reintroduced in Senate & House
1919: Congress approved the 19th Amendment; sent it to states
1920: League of Women Voters founded
1920: 19th Amendment ratified by 36th state (Tennessee)
Published August 26, 2020