Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Harry T. Burn Votes for Women's Suffrage

Black and White Photo of Harry T. Burn

Pol Light Moment #93 happened on August 18, 1920, when Harry T. Burn (1895-1977) cast the deciding vote in the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment (women's suffrage) in a session of the legislator at the State of Tennessee. Harry T. Burn served in the Tennessee State House of Representatives from 1918-1922. He later served in the Tennessee State Senate from 1948-1952.

The U.S. Congress had approved the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Tennessee was the final state needed to ratify the Amendment and they were split on the issue.

Harry T. Burn was a 24 year old legislator that was part of the anti suffrage camp. However, at the last moment he switched sides because of a letter he had received from his mother and he cast the deciding vote for a women's right to vote.

“I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for a boy to follow,” Burn said, switching sides (New York Times, My Favorite August, August 13, 2010). Because of the historical importance of his vote and the publicity about his rationale for voting as he did, Harry T. Burn became known by some as a hero and others as a "mamma's boy".

This is part of the eight page letter that Harry Burn's mother sent him about his vote on the 19th Amendment and that he kept in his pocket when he changed his mind and voted in support of women's suffrage.
Dear Son: 
Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don't keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the "rat" in ratification. 
Your mother
(Source: Tennessee State Library and Archives

The New York Times reported this account of the vote in its August 19, 1920 edition.
The vote at the outset was on partisan lines, but when the name of Representative Harry T. Burn, Republican, of McMinn County, was called, he voted "Aye." The opposition then virtually conceded defeat, for Mr Burn had voted with them to table the resolution, and his change gave the suffregists the needed majority (Wikipedia, Harry T. Burn). 

Pol Light does not endorse political candidates. We present a brighter side to politics when they are found on either side of the aisle. We don't have to agree with all of a person's politics to recognize these bright moments.

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