Leader's Moment of Decision Led to Women's Equality Day
By Gloria Feldt on August 25, 2009
Leaders make decisions every day, but some days are more significant than others. Those are the days on which we face moments of decision at the moral crossroads. One such crossroads was the reason we celebrate August 26 as Women's Equality Day.
Why August 26? It's the date that the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
After 72 years of organized struggle, and almost 150 years after the
American Revolution took place, female citizens of this country finally
got the right to vote. But though this decision was clearly about
women, it must be remembered that the women who led the suffrage
movement had to persuade the virtually all male Congress and state
legislatures to expand the franchise to include women.
Women have take many more giant steps along the road to equality
since then, and in my opinion, thought we still have a distance to go,
the path is for the most part open to us to be or do whatever we
choose. It will be up to women to lead themselves through to full
equality and parity in the workplace, in politics and civic leadership,
and at home in personal relationships.
As we honor the women leaders like Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Carrie Chapman Catt who fought for women's right to vote, I want to share with you the story of a man whose
leadership moment of decision (and his mother's persuasiveness) led him
to cast the deciding vote in the final state needed to ratify women's
When thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states had
ratified the amendment, the battle came to Nashville, Tennessee.
Anti-suffrage and pro-suffrage forces from around the nation descended
on the town. And on August 18, 1920, the final vote was scheduled.
young legislator, 24 year old Harry Burn, had voted with the
anti-suffrage forces to that time. But his mother had urged that he
vote for the amendment and for suffrage. When he saw that the vote was
very close, and with his anti-suffrage vote would be tied 48 to 48, he
decided to vote as his mother had urged him: for the right of women to
vote. And so on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and deciding
state to ratify.
Except that the anti-suffrage forces used
parliamentary maneuvers to delay, trying to convert some of the
pro-suffrage votes to their side. But eventually their tactics failed,
and the governor sent the required notification of the ratification to
And so on August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution became law, and women could
vote in the fall elections, including in the Presidential election that
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