It ain't over till it's over
When exactly is the 19th Amendment anniversary? Was it ratified on August 18 or August 26? What’s the difference? Which should we observe?
Read on for answers.
The 19th Amendment cleared Congress in June 1919, 41 years after it was introduced. This image of Justice embracing “American Womanhood” -- captioned “At Last” -- ran on the cover of The Suffragist magazine that month.
State ratifications poured in. Illinois, Michigan & Wisconsin competed to be First to Ratify. (Wisconsin won.) But a year later, with a Presidential election months away, women were one state shy of 36.
Seven states had already voted no: Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. North Carolina & Florida were unreachable. (Southern states don’t want everybody to vote.) That left 4 states in play: Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware & Tennessee. But one by one they fell away:
*Vermont. The legislature voted to ratify--but the Governor > vetoed it. Then he blocked an override of his veto by refusing to call a special session. “Nothing can give us that state except the death of the governor,” said Carrie Chapman Catt. “And we haven’t come to murder yet.”
*Connecticut. Same story: legislators were in favor, but the Governor refused to call them into session, insisting it wasn’t an “emergency.” (Months later, when Conn.’s approval was superfluous, he realized women were actually going to vote. He called an emergency session to ratify.)
*Delaware. A particularly painful loss because suffragists expected to win. Local activists, especially poet Alice Dunbar-Nelson leading 9,000 Black women, lobbied and demonstrated all spring. Delaware’s Senate voted in favor, but the House refused to bring the bill to the floor.
So it all came down to Tennessee. Tennessee? Women lost in Delaware, were stonewalled in Vermont and Connecticut, and their political fate hung on Tennessee? If you’d been around then, you wouldn’t have put money on it.
Elaine Weiss’ book The Woman’s Hour recounts suffragists’ relentless effort in the face of bribery, double-crossing, and most of all, racism. I recommend it highly. She also makes a persuasive case for observing the anniversary on Aug 26, not the 18th.
On Aug 18th, the Tenn. legislature voted for suffrage by a 1-vote margin. Anti-suffragists went to court to block it and nearly succeeded. A 3-day window for reconsideration also imperiled the win. Rallies around the state, backed by the KKK, called for the vote to be rescinded.
It was dicey, but local leaders and the army of national suffragists who had spent August in Nashville remained vigilant. Not until August 24 did the Governor of Tennessee sign the ratification certificate. >> The document reached Washington two days later.
Bottom line? It ain’t over till it’s over. The Tennessee win on August 18 was tenuous, and the days that followed were fraught. Not until August 26 was the 19th Amendment added to the Constitution. That’s why it’s #WomensEqualityDay and the amendment’s birthday.