On this date 94 years ago, Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson etched her place in history by becoming the first woman to legally vote in Tennessee. Hudson cast her vote - for the winning candidate, she proudly noted - in a Camden mayoral election just five days after a law giving women the right to vote in Tennessee took effect. (The man she helped elect, A.V. Bowls, told a Nashville newspaper he was “puffed up” to have won the first election in which women were allowed to participate.)
That story is just one of many chronicled in the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ online exhibit about women’s suffrage. The exhibit titled,“Remember the Ladies!”: Women Struggle for an Equal Voice, can be found online at http://tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/suffrage/.
Perhaps Tennessee’s best-known and most important contribution to the suffrage movement came when a young man decided to listen to his mother.
Although giving women the right to vote had been debated for decades, the suffrage movement did not gain steam until the late 19th Century. A constitutional amendment was proposed, and by 1920 required only one more state - the 36th - to ratify before it would become law.
Tennessee proved to be that pivotal state. However, not all women favored the right to vote. In Tennessee, there was a powerful anti-suffrage lobby that vigorously opposed ratification. Both anti- and pro- “Suffs” mobilized their forces for the final fight and set up headquarters at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville.
On the day of the final vote, it appeared the anti- faction would win. But Harry Burn, the youngest member of the General Assembly at age 23, cast the deciding vote. Burn had been allied with the anti-suffrage group, but after receiving a letter from his mother with the words, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!” he changed his vote.
“The State Library and Archives’ online suffrage exhibit provides terrific details about Tennessee’s role in this important advancement in our great democracy,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “This is just one example of the resources that are available at the State Library and Archives. And many of those resources are available to Tennesseans online, 24 hours a day, free of charge.”
A traveling version of the exhibit is also available for loan to libraries and museums. If you are interested in hosting the suffrage exhibit or any other traveling exhibit available from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.