Tennessee ratified the Nineteenth amendment by a margin of one vote. This circumstance has generated myths that serve to obscure rather than enlighten the events that occurred. Historians generally attribute women winning the right to vote to the improvements in their legal status, education, and employment that encouraged women to demand the right to vote. Following suffragists' rhetoric, historians believe that national opposition to women's enfranchisement came from the liquor industry and from railroad industries because they feared that women would vote to maintain prohibition and pass regulating legislation damaging to their industries. Suffragists, therefore, mounted many campaigns that led to women winning the right to vote in presidential elections in many states, thereby giving them influence over the presidency. Once Woodrow Wilson gave a federal amendment his support and helped it through congress, the matter was settled nationally, but the states still had to ratify it. Some southern states had to ratify the amendment for it to be added to the constitution. Yet, the South was noted for its opposition to women's enfranchisement based on its desire to maintain a segregated society and to retain the states' right to prevent black men from voting. Clearly, ratification was not inevitable.
This study, therefore, examines Tennessee, its politics, and its politicians to see to what extent the usual historical explanations that states' rights and the liquor and railroad industries were the main obstructions to Tennessee's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. It concludes that women's increased access to education and employment affected too few women in the state to cause a great demand for the vote. Moreover, corporate opponents and racist fears were less important as impediments to ratification than historians have believed. Legislators voted neither out of fear of federal intervention, nor from party loyalty; they considered each issue on its merits. Whether it was good for the state, their constituents, and their own political careers seem likely reasons for their decisions. Woman suffrage hung in the balance until the last possible minute so that one vote eventually determined the outcome in Tennessee.
Leckie, Shirley A.
Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of History
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Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Beale, Judith, "The Battle's Lost and Won: Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in Tennessee" (2000). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 1771.