Tag Archives: Harry T Burn

Good boys and women’s suffrage

In the fight for women’s suffrage, there are many leading women who are remembered for their heroic efforts, but spare a thought for one Harry T Burn, who simply did what his mother asked because he was a good boy.

By 1920 most European countries had given women the vote, as did a few other countries (Canada gave them the vote in 1917), but the US still resisted the temptation.

In order to get the 19th amendment into law, it needed to be ratified by 36 states, but only 35 states did so, and it seemed the issue may drag for some time.  In August 1920, the state of Tennessee was to vote on the amendment, with both sides campaigning hard.  Those who supported women’s suffrage wore a yellow rose as a symbol of their vote, while those who opposed it wore a red rose.

Harry T Burn, he listened to his mother and changed history

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, wore his red rose proudly and expected to win the No vote, but a couple of late defections left the house tied 48-48.  A second vote was taken, and once again it was tied at 48-48.  Supporters of the amendment were disappointed, and this turned to dismay when a local newspaper ran a cartoon depicting an old woman chasing the letters RAT with a broom, trying to united them with the letters IFICATION.

This cartoon spurred one woman to write to her son, who happened to be a young representative in the Tennessee house, asking him to help Mrs Catt (a prominent Suffragist) with her “Rats”.

As the house voted for a third time, Harry was still wearing the red rose which symbolised his previous votes against the amendment, but he now stood up and voted for women’s suffrage.  The vote was now 49-47 in support of the amendment, and the uproar was so high that the governor suggested Harry wait until state troopers could be brought to provide a bodyguard.

Harry managed to sneak out on his own by climbing out of the window of a clerk’s office, crawling along a very narrow ledge, and then climbing in through a window of another office which had access to the lobby, and freedom.

Harry would later explain his actions by saying that it was his mother who asked him to change his vote in her letter, and that a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, also changed his vote so that he could introduce a motion to reconsider, but this motion was rejected and the 19th Amendment was ratified by one vote.

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Posted by on Monday 11th June 2012 in History, People


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