An amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was first formally introduced to Congress in 1878. The amendment, introduced by Senator Aaron Sargent of California, stated “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.” After the introduction of the amendment, often called the Susan B Anthony amendment, to Congress it was off to committee where it would sit and wait. Despite receiving 30,000 petitions requesting suffrage, the committee of Privileges and Elections decided to indefinitely postpone consideration of the amendment. It would sit in committee until 1887 when it was finally brought to the senate floor and unfortunately defeated. More amendments granting women suffrage would be introduced in Congress and voted down, sometimes by one or two votes. Finally, in May of 1919, the US House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment, followed two weeks later, in June, by the Senate. The amendment was off to the states for ratification and the race was on! With an election just a year later in November of 1920, Suffragists knew they had to act fast to get the 36 states needed to ratify, and the amendment to be passed, before a potential change in political tide. 

Throughout the next year, suffragists would continue to work hard lobbying state representatives to ratify the 19th amendment. By August of 1920, 35 states had ratified, including Maine who was the 19th state to ratify in a special session on November 5th, 1919. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine would be the only New England States to ratify before the amendment was fully ratified. Connecticut would ratify a few weeks later in September. Vermont, who had not been scheduled to vote on the amendment until their winter session, would ratify in February of 1921. 

The Senate Chamber At the Moment the Vote Was Being Counted By the Clerk
The Senate Chamber at the moment the 19th Amendment vote was being counted by the clerk. From the Nashville Tennessean, Sunday morning, August 29, 1920. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives

In August of 1920, with 35 of 36 states needed to ratify, the suffragists had faced 8 rejections. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Delaware, and Louisiana all rejected the amendment. Hawaii and Alaska had not been granted statehood at this time, meaning there were only 5 states left to either ratify or reject. Tennessee, Connecticut, Vermont, Florida, and North Carolina. Suffrage was unpopular in Florida and the state did not bring the amendment on their floor to ratify until 1969, almost 50 years after the passing of the 19th amendment. Connecticut and Vermont were not scheduled to vote on the amendment until later in the season, leaving minimal or no time between when they would potentially ratify and the 1920 election. The hopes of the suffragists were with Tennessee and North Carolina. Many thought that North Carolina would be the 36th state to ratify, but the representatives stalled in debate.  


On August 18th, 100 years ago to the day that this article was published, leaders of both the suffrage and the anti-suffrage movements would descend on Tennessee’s state capitol. Check out The Rocky Road to Ratification Part 2: A Letter from His Mama to learn more about what went down in Tennessee on that day.

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