The Struggle for Women's Suffrage
|The Final Push||Previous||Next|
|Digital History ID 3207|
After the United States entered World War I, many suffrage supporters argued that women should receive the vote as a war measure. Adoption of women's suffrage would prove that the allies were fighting for democracy. In January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for a women's suffrage amendment. That year Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota gave women the vote. Additionally, the House of Representatives ratified a suffrage amendment by the precise two-thirds vote needed for passage.
Ratification was repeatedly defeated in the Senate. It was not until 1919, when Republicans had a majority, that the Senate finally passed what would become the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. One member of Congress left his wife's deathbed to vote on ratification. When he returned home, she was dead.
Within six days of Congress' ratification of the amendment, six states also ratified the amendment. To become part of the Constitution, the amendment had to be ratified by 36 states. In March 1920, West Virginia, by a single vote, became the 34th state to ratify. Washington State quickly followed.
There appeared to be one state left to go. But Ohio's state constitution provided for a voter referendum to confirm the legislature's ratification of a constitutional amendment. Petition drives were mounted in other states to reverse their ratification of the amendment. In June 1920, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ohio referendum provision was unconstitutional, ending the threat of reversals in other states.
All eyes turned to Tennessee, which seemed to be the most likely remaining state to ratify the amendment. At the urging of President Wilson, the governor called a special session. The decisive vote was cast by the assembly's youngest member, Harry Burn, who was just 24 years old and had earlier opposed ratification. He said that he changed his vote after receiving a letter from his mother, urging him to be a good boy and "help Mrs. Catt put rat in Ratification." The measure passed 49 votes to 47 votes. On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
In 1920, the United States became the 27th country to give women the vote, after countries such as Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, and Russia. In fact, most of these countries adopted women's suffrage during or immediately after World War I.