Tennessee lawmaker helped women gain the vote

Mom's letter helped convince young Southern lawmaker to break a tie in favor of women's suffrage, giving the 19th Amendment ratification in the 36th state.

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National News

August 17, 2020 - 9:46 AM

Harry and Febb Burn

One hundred years ago this month, women in the United States were guaranteed the right to vote with ratification of the 19th Amendment — secured by a 24-year-old Tennessee legislator’s decisive vote, cast at the bidding of his mother.

Harry T. Burn’s surprise move set the stage for decades of slow but steady advances for American women in electoral politics. Two years ago, a record number of women were elected to Congress. On Tuesday, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate — making her the first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket. 

Burn, from the small town of Niota in eastern Tennessee, joined the Legislature in 1918 as its youngest member. The following year, Congress approved the 19th Amendment, touching off the battle to win ratification by the legislatures of 36 of the 48 states.

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