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Jackson’s Contributions to Women’s History: Suffrage Day at the 1915 West Tennessee Fair

March is Women’s History Month. Each week in March we will share stories from newspapers and letters of the early 20th century highlighting Jackson’s important role in the national suffrage campaign. These accounts have been gathered by historian Gay Wilson.

In August 1920, Tennessee was the final battleground in the fight for ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would grant women their equal right to vote. Jackson suffragist and pioneering lawyer Sue Shelton White is widely credited for her role in the victory for women, making Tennessee the 36th and last state needed to ratify the amendment.

In addition to White, the city of Jackson and its citizens played valuable roles in the success of the suffrage movement.

Classic Cars on Parade

Jackson had a reputation in the early 20th century for its hospitality to suffragist visitors, even by those residents who opposed the cause of the suffragists.

In October 1915 Jackson hosted the annual convention of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association. It was reported that “the most delightful homes in Jackson were thrown open to the visitors.”

The first day of the convention — Wednesday, October 6 — the city declared “Suffrage Day” at the West Tennessee Fair. The fair was decorated in the suffrage colors of yellow and white, and electric lights blazed the words “Votes for Women.” Fair officials provided platforms for suffragist leaders to speak to the crowds.

The Suffrage Day automobile parade featured autos like the Ford Model T and the Chevrolet Roadster, all festooned in yellow and white. First prize for best decorated auto was $50. Second prize was a “loving cup” trophy valued at $25. Advertisers were able to join the parade for $5.

That evening featured speeches and music at the Carnegie Library on College Street. Episcopal minister Rev. George Watts gave the invocation.

On Thursday and Friday, convention delegates were served lunch in the basement of “Jackson’s splendid new Methodist church,” built in 1914, which still serves the community today as First Methodist Downtown. Local Jackson businesswomen joined the suffragists’ luncheon on Thursday, and 28-year-old Sue Shelton White received praise for her role as toastmistress of the luncheon.

From that day, it would be almost five years before women would win their full right to vote, but the momentum had begun in Jackson.

Next week: Suffragist “Dixie Tour” Arrives

Gay Wilson lives in Downtown Jackson and is author of Some Woman Had to Fight: The Radical Life of Sue Shelton White.

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