August 18, 1920, this day in history 100 years ago, the 36th state voted to ratify the 19th Amendment, meaning women would finally get the right to vote in the United States of America. It's difficult to imagine it has only been 100 years. My grandma was born when women didn't have the right to vote, which seems absolutely preposterous.
In January 1918, Rep. Rankin opens debate in the House of Representatives on a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage. The House votes in favor, but the amendment fails to win a two-thirds majority in the Senate. In a speech to Congress in September, President Wilson officially changes his position to support a federal women’s suffrage amendment.
On May 21, 1919, the House again passes what would become the 19th Amendment, popularly known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. The Senate follows suit on June 4 by a narrow margin (just over the two-thirds requirement), and it went to the states to be ratified. Ratification requires 36 states, or three-quarters of those in the Union at the time.
Eleven states—Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Iowa and Missouri—vote to ratify by late July 1919. On July 24, Georgia’s state legislature becomes the first to vote against ratification, thanks to a determined anti-suffrage effort in the Peach State. (Georgia won’t formally ratify the 19th Amendment until 1970.) The “antis” draw strength from powerful business interests including the railroad, liquor and manufacturing industries, as well as religious and conservative groups.
By year’s end, Alabama becomes the second state to vote against ratification, while state legislatures in Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, California, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota and Colorado have all voted to ratify the amendment. Suffragists are 14 states short of their target.
The first month of the new decade brings ratification from Kentucky, Rhode Island, Oregon, Indiana and Wyoming, and a rejection from South Carolina.
By the end of March 1920, Virginia, Maryland and Mississippi have also voted against ratification. But Nevada, New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Washington ratify, bringing the total to 35 states—one short of the goal needed for the amendment to become law.
Delaware’s vote to reject ratification shocks suffragists, and deals a serious blow to their momentum. Suddenly, the fate of the suffrage amendment appears in doubt. Anti-suffrage sentiment runs high in most of the states left to vote: State legislatures in Connecticut, Vermont, Florida decline to even consider the amendment, leaving only North Carolina and Tennessee, with North Carolina sure to reject.
Called into special session, the Tennessee state legislature met to decide the fate of the women’s suffrage amendment. Catt and other prominent national “Suffs” traveled to Nashville to personally lobby legislators for weeks, as do “Anti-Suffs” determined to keep women from gaining the vote. In the so-called “War of the Roses,” supporters of suffrage wear white roses, while their opponents don red ones.
The Tennessee Senate votes to ratify, but the vote is tied in the House—until one legislator, Harry Burns, changes his vote after receiving a letter from his mother urging him to vote for women’s suffrage. On August 18, 1920, one day after the North Carolina legislature rejects the suffrage amendment by two votes, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify.