Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator
“Oh, we were suffering until suffrage….”
Schoolhouse Rock songs taught me many things, not the least of which was the difference between the words suffer and suffrage. As a kid, I never grasped the importance of my ability to vote one day, even with the aid of a fun song. Neither did I reflect on my great-grandmothers’ likely frustration in not having a political voice. Thanks to the women of the suffrage movement, I have never experienced a world in which voting is not an option.
For all the love we laud upon our founding fathers, women were shamefully left out of the conversation during the foundation of our nation. Despite the presence of strong female roles throughout American history, it would take 131 years for the federal government to fully recognize the need for women’s suffrage. The national fight for women’s suffrage began in 1848 with the convention at Seneca Falls. By the 1870s, Congress had a bill; however, it would be voted on and reintroduced multiple times before becoming the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The fight for women’s suffrage was a long battle, but not without victories along the way. Wyoming passed the Wyoming Suffrage Act of 1869, recognizing the importance of women in surviving frontier life in their sparsely populated territory. In the decades that followed, fourteen other states followed Wyoming’s example and granted women full voting rights before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
In Tennessee, and in Clarksville specifically, the women’s suffrage movement was vibrant and alive. Heated debate for the proposed amendment continued to rage even up to the eve of ratification. The Leaf-Chronicle observed in 1917 that “directing the affairs of government would cause [women] to neglect the home, forget to mend our clothes and burn the biscuits.” Despite opposition, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the new amendment – and the last one needed for it to pass – on August 18, 1920. It was officially announced and added to the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, the latest addition to Clarksville’s growing statue collection will be unveiled at the Public Square at the end of Franklin Street downtown on August 15. The statue is entitled Tennessee Triumph, Tennie for short. Initiated by the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council under Ellen Kanervo, along with local historian Brenda Harper, the details on the statue are extraordinary. Though the statue itself is not meant to resemble any specific person, the articles of clothing are modeled after items in the Museum’s collection worn by real Clarksville women during the time of the amendment’s adoption.
Join the suffrage march parade on Saturday, August 15 starting at the Courthouse at 5 p.m. and see Tennie’s unveiling at 6 p.m. Before you go, learn more about Clarksville women’s suffrage struggles and lasting contributions with our The Power of Women: Celebration of the Suffrage Movement exhibit, currently on display.