Women getting the right to vote took decades of changing ways of thinking

Posted on September 17, 2012

The Dalton Citizen, September 17, 2012 by Misty Watson

Betsy Hoole McArthur remembers dinner table discussions about whom her parents would vote for during an election.

“I remember much discussion saying ‘We need to vote for the same person,’” McArthur said. “It was the idea of one family, one vote.”

Many never thought women should have the right to vote, and so many women would vote the same way as their husbands even after being granted that right, historians said during the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society meeting on Sunday.

Though the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920, many Southern states didn’t ratify the amendment until many years later, said Judy Cornett, a professor at Dalton State College, who spoke about women’s suffrage. Georgia didn’t ratify it until 1970. Mississippi was the last state to ratify the amendment, and that didn’t happen until 1984.

“I don’t know why it took Mississippi until 1984,” Cornett said. “We just assume that every woman in the United States thought suffrage was a grand idea, but for a lot of women, they thought ‘My husband votes for me and my family.’ That was the big argument that the husbands made too. ‘I vote for everybody so you don’t have to vote.’”

Murray historian and longtime Georgia history teacher Tim Howard said he thinks many Southern states waited to acknowledge it officially because so many people saw the man as the head of the household who should make those kinds of decisions.

“In my lifetime, I remember women at church who wouldn’t vote, ‘the man is the head of the house so the man votes for us,’” Howard said.

It took 72 years from the time women, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began pushing for the right for women to vote until it became an amendment. Through the years women used many tactics — lobbying, picketing, marching, rallies, hunger strikes, being arrested, Cornett said.

“Women were feistier than I realized,” McArthur said. “I thought they were prim and proper.”

Carrie Chapman Catt emerged as a leader of the movement after the deaths of Anthony and Stanton in the early 1900s. She served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

When the United States entered World War I, those involved in the movement had to decide whether to continue in the face of war or stop. Under Catt’s leadership, they decided to continue, but also supported the war through Red Cross efforts, Cornett said.

“Catt begins talking to Congress about the 19th Amendment as being a war-related amendment, that women will do their service to the country even during war time,” Cornett said.

Woodrow Wilson began to side with Catt’s group, and started pushing for the amendment to be adopted. It passed in Congress in 1919. At the time, 36 states had to approve the amendment for it to take effect.

“In 1920, they’re just one state away,” Cornett said. “New England, where most of these women were from, failed them. They were trying to figure out who in the South would support them.”

Leaders in Tennessee indicated they would consider it. The vote came down to one man, 24-year-old legislator Henry Burn.

Women in the 1800s and early 1900s were “very involved in symbolism,” Cornett said. Those who supported the suffrage movement wore yellow roses and yellow sashes. Those who opposed suffrage wore red.

Burn wore a red rose pinned to his lapel. But his mother had sent him a note saying she supported the amendment and she wanted him to approve it.

“He threw the red rose down on the floor and went to vote,” Cornett said.


Posted in: United States