Martha Gerdeman


My mother was born on Aug. 7, 1920, 11 days before her mother was granted the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment first failed in the U.S. Senate by two votes, but a year later it was brought up again. On May 21, 1919, the House passed the resolution by 42 votes more than required. In two weeks, the Senate voted, and this time, senators approved the amendment — by two votes. Then it went to the states for approval.

Within six days the amendment had been approved by six states and by March 1920 approval was needed by only one state. Eight southern states had already rejected women’s right to vote by Aug. 18, when the Tennessee legislature took up the measure.

The struggle in Tennessee became known as the War of the Roses; suffrage supporters wore yellow roses, and opponents wore red. A special session of the legislature was called in August, with legislators wearing whichever color of rose they favored in their lapels.

By counting the roses, one could tell that the measure was evenly divided, which meant that it would likely fail. It all came down to one young man — Harry T. Burn, from the tiny town of Niota in McMinn County. Even today there are fewer than 800 residents there.

Young Harry arrived wearing the red rose he had been sporting for weeks. When the vote came, however, he voted to approve the amendment, passing it by one vote. The story is told that he immediately took off running and hid out in the capitol attic to avoid the other angry red rose wearing legislators until he felt it was safe to show himself.

He later explained that he had received a letter from his mother, urging him to “do the right thing” and support votes for women; and he knew that good boys always did what their mothers told them to.

Fast forward to 2019. An op-ed piece in Sunday’s Tennessean included the statistics that Tennessee ranks 49th in voter turnout for federal elections and 45th in number of eligible voters registered. That is more than pathetic; it is downright frightening. In 2010 28.5 percent of registered voters turned out to vote.

We have Dickson city elections coming up on Sept. 26. Normally turnout for local elections are even more dismal than for president. Think about it: who actually influences your life — federal or state officials? Which body sets the price of our license tags, our local sales tax, our roads that get paved? By the way, Tennessee has the highest combined state and local sales tax in the United States.

To vote in the next election, you must send or take your completed form to the election commission 30 days before the next election. Go to Charlotte and turn right at the stop light on 48 North beside the school. It’s right there.

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