HomeNewsJackson’s Contributions to Women’s History: The Men Who Spoke Up for Suffrage

Jackson’s Contributions to Women’s History: The Men Who Spoke Up for Suffrage

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.

The suffragists actively lobbied the support of men for their cause. The support of three Tennessee men in particular was key to ratification of the 19th Amendment in the Tennessee state legislature, granting women their equal right to vote: Rep. Banks Turner of Gibson County, Rep. Joseph Hanover of Memphis, and Rep. Harry Burn of McMinn County.

Before that critical ratification vote, Jackson residents heard from other men who supported suffrage.

Reformer Judge Returns Home

In December 1916 prominent reformer Judge Ben Lindsey of Colorado returned to his hometown of Jackson to speak. Judge Lindsey pioneered establishment of the juvenile court system and fought to abolish child labor.

The judge told his Jackson audience that the suffragists merely wanted the same rights that men had: “They demand suffrage, not because they undertake to promote that things are going to be better. . .but because it is just.”

He responded to the anti-suffragists’ claim that if women were elected to office, they would bring corruption to politics. Judge Lindsey admitted there may be occasional corruption by a woman politician, but added, “Where there is one relapse from virtue among women in politics, there are 10 among men in politics. No man who is just and fair can deny this.” He sarcastically suggested taking away the right to vote from men and giving it only to women. “Then there would be 10 times more virtue in politics.”

The judge gave chief credit to women for his victories in juvenile justice reform in Colorado, stating, “In the final struggle, it was the women who saved us.”

Orator and Statesman Speaks in Humboldt and Jackson

Famed orator, politician and former U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan spoke in late December 1916 to a “packed house” in Humboldt’s city hall. His lecture was sponsored by the local Daughters of the Confederacy. He spoke for two hours and then boarded a late-afternoon train for Jackson, where he lectured that evening in favor of votes for women.

Bryan told Tennessee women to pursue multiple avenues to win the vote — not to just wait on the 19th Amendment to be ratified. He said he hoped the national amendment would be ratified in a few years, but he advised Tennessee suffragists to push for a state amendment and a legislative statute: “The method of securing it is not so material as the securing of it.”

In April 1919 Tennessee women won a partial victory with the state legislature’s passage of a law allowing women to vote in elections for President and Vice President of the United States and for municipal offices. But Tennessee women still could not hold a public office themselves.

Next week: A Quiet Victory in Jackson

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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