Suffrage in 60 Seconds: Harry Burn

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On behalf of the National Park Service, this is Suffrage in 60 Seconds.

There were many twists and turns on the long road to passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. But August 1920 may have provided some of the most surprises. An amendment requires three-quarters of the states to ratify. In 1920, that meant that at least thirty-six of the forty-eight states must ratify the Nineteenth. Thirty-five states had ratified the amendment by March, and by the summer of 1920, supporters and opponents of this groundbreaking amendment turned their focus to Nashville, Tennessee. In August 1920, the Tennessee state senate took up ratification and passed the Nineteenth by an overwhelming 25 to 4 vote. On August 18, the House held a vote to table, with both sides knowing the vote was too close to call. That vote ended in a 48-48 tie. Prior to the vote, 24-year-old legislator Harry Burn, a 19th Amendment opponent, had opened a read a letter from his mother.

Febb Burn wrote to her son Harry and proclaimed, "Hurrah! and vote for suffrage and don't keep them in doubt."

When a new vote came on the resolution, Burn switched his vote and the Nineteenth Amendment passed the Tennessee House by a 49 to 47 vote. The Nineteenth Amendment had become a reality. But for the National Woman's Party, and activists everywhere, there was still much more work to be done.

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1 minute, 21 seconds

When the Tennessee state legislature opened a special session to consider ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920, no one knew whether woman suffrage was headed for victory or defeat. What--and who--made the difference? Ranger Chip has the story of the drama in Nashville.

Harry T. Burn was the youngest member of the Tennessee General Assembly when he cast his fateful vote in August 1920.

Part of a series of articles titled Suffrage in Sixty Seconds.

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, National Mall and Memorial Parks

Last updated: September 1, 2020