Tennessee State Library and Archives

“Remember the Ladies!”: Women Struggle for an Equal Voice

introduction | the beginning | the struggle | the payoff

The Beginning

Tho we felicitate ourselves, we sympathize with those who are trembling least the Lot of Boston should be theirs. But they cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusilanimity and cowardise should take possession of them. They have time and warning given them to see the Evil and shun it.-I long to hear that you have declared an independancy-and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.

Lucretia Mott, n.d., Library Photograph Collection

Lucretia Mott, n.d., Library Photograph Collection 194
9, engraved portrait of Lucretia Mott (1793-1880)
entitled “The Impersonation of Righteousness
and Sympathy with the Victims of Wrong.”
 Lucretia Mott was a Quaker minister and leading women’s rights
pioneer. She called the first women’s
rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.

Excerpt from a letter written by Abigail Adams to her husband, March 31, 1776
At the time this letter was written, John Adams, Abigail’s husband, was the Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.    In the letter, Abigail encouraged her husband to “remember the ladies” and she spoke very frankly about her feelings.  Perhaps she looked on her husband as more than just a man, she looked on him as a friend.  This is evidenced by the fact that Abigail signed her letter:
Adieu.  I need not say how much I am Your ever faithful Friend.

Memorable Quotes from the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention of 1848:
"He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice."

"He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead."

"He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns."

"He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life."

"He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God."

"He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education - all colleges being closed against her."

Frederick Douglass, 1887, Library Collection

Frederick Douglass, 1887, Library Collection
Frederick Douglass participated in the first
women’s rights convention at Seneca
Falls, New York, in 1848.  This
image is from Men of Mark by Rev.
William J. Simmons.

From Anti-Slavery to Women's Rights

The nineteenth century witnessed the birth of two monumental movements in American history: abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage.  While the two movements appeared to be distinct, both sought to secure the American promise of Liberty and equality for all people.  Abolition was the mother of the suffrage movement and growing numbers of people actively supported both reforms.

A large number of women supported abolition and most men believed it was because of women’s high moral standards and their tender hearts.  Frederick Douglass himself noted that women were key players in abolition.  He believed that the true history of the antislavery cause would one day be written and when it was, women would take up the largest amount of space in that great tome because, “the cause of the slave has been peculiarly woman’s cause.”

During a time when social standing, race, and gender defined a person’s place in society, courageous women were involved in a common cause and dared to take a stand for freedom and equality.  Sojourner Truth was the first African-American woman to make public speeches about the connection between the rights of slaves and the rights of women.  Her torch was inherited by other women such as Mary Church Terrell who was born in Memphis during the Civil War.  A daughter of slaves, she spoke out against lynchings and campaigned for human rights.  She became an advocate for women’s rights and joined the National Woman’s Party in picketing the White House.

While most of the individuals involved in the abolition and suffrage struggles saw the fruition of their efforts. Though the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865 and the 19th gave women the right to vote, the struggle for equality continues to the present day!

A Few Key Players:

Susan B. Anthony was a Quaker, teacher, temperance and abolition organizer, and women’s rights leader.  She was active in state suffrage campaigns and continued to speak across the country for 30 years.  Susan B. Anthony has become the face and name of the women’s suffrage movement having stamps, coins and postcards issued with her likeness.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a women’s rights leader, abolitionist, popular speaker and writer.  She wrote the Declaration of Sentiments.  She ran for Congress in 1866 and was the president of the National Women Suffrage Association for 21 years.

Carrie Chapman Catt was a field organizer with Susan B. Anthony and was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  She would also found the League of Women Voters.

Ann Dallas Dudley

Ann Dallas Dudley, n.d.,
Library Photograph Collection

Sojouner Truth, ca. 1860s,

Sojourner Truth, ca. 1860s,
Carte de Visite Collection

Frances Wright, n.d., Library Collection

Harriet Tubman, n.d., Library Collection
Image from Scenes in the Life of
Harriet Tubman
, 1869, by Sarah H. Bradford.

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells, 1897, Library Collection

Mary Church Terrell, n.d., Library Photograph Collection

Mary Church Terrell, n.d.,
Library Photograph Collection

Jane Addams

Jane Addams, 1915,
Library Photograph Collection

Anne Dallas Dudley founded the Nashville Equal Suffrage League in 1911.  A member of a prominent Nashville family, she was a national and state leader in the suffrage movement.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and freed about 1827.  As a free woman of color, she worked as a domestic in New York City from 1829-1843.  She eventually became a street evangelist, abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights.  In 1851, Sojourner Truth delivered her Ain’t I a Woman? speech at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.

Inez Milholland Boissevain rode a horse in the March 13, 1913, suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., as the first of four mounted heralds.  She collapsed on October 23, 1916, while delivering a pro-suffrage speech in Los Angeles.  While she was collapsing, she exclaimed, “President Wilson, ‘How long must, how long must women wait for liberty?”  Inez died a few weeks later from leukemia but her words became the war cry of the suffrage movement.

Tall and vivacious, Englishwoman Frances Wright established the experimental colony at Nashoba.  The colony was begun in 1826 with the support of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and the Marquis de Lafayette.  Her idealistic mission for Nashoba was to buy slaves and to prepare them for freedom and self-sufficiency.

Elizabeth Avery Meriwether was an author and publisher.  In 1872, she published her own pro-suffrage newspaper, “The Tablet.”  Her husband was a Confederate Soldier and friend of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.  In 1867, when Forrest and some of her husband other friends were visiting with them, she asked, “But when will women have the right to vote?  I have been taught to believe that taxation without representation is tyranny.”  To which Matt Galloway (editor of the Memphis Appeal) replied, “You know very well your husband will take care of your interests.”  Then Mrs. Meriwether rejoined with, “Who will take care of the interests of women who have no husbands?”  After a long pause through which no answer was forthcoming, Mrs. Meriwether responded with, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.  I shall protest against that tyranny as long as I live.”  On May 5, 1876, Mrs. Meriwether rented out the Memphis Theater and told a large audience she intended to vote for Samuel J. Tilden in November.  On the first Tuesday in November, she did cast her ballot; however, it was probably not counted.  The Judge and the clerk were friends of her husband.  It was rumored that they dropped the ballot in the box to keep her happy and then destroyed her ballot later.

Harriet Tubman is well known for her work with the Underground Railroad.  She was also a spy, a nurse and an active suffragist.  Her life was a monument to courage and determination and her actions continue to stand out in American history.

Anna Howard Shaw was a minister, doctor of medicine and an author.  By 1885, she had pastored two Massachusetts churches.  On account of her sex, both the New England Conference and the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to ordain her.  That same year, she was ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church.  She delivered orations on suffrage for more than 30 years and was a close associate of Susan B. Anthony.  Shaw was also president of the National American Women Suffrage Association from 1904 to 1915.

Mrs. Lizzie Crozier French was a suffragist and founder of the Ossoli Circle in Knoxville.

Ida B. Wells is a native of Memphis.  She was a newspaper editor and journalist who founded the Alpha Suffrage Club.  In addition to being active in the women’s suffrage movement, she was also an avid civil rights advocate.  This image is from Sparkling Gems of Race Knowledge Worth Reading.

J. Frankie Pierce was a speaker at the first meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters.

A native of Memphis, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  She was an activist in both the Civil Rights and Women’s movements.

Joseph Hanover was a Tennessee State Representative in the 61st General Assembly.  He was a member of Carrie Chapman Catt’s strategic planning group and became a target for anti-suffragists.  Governor Albert H. Roberts was so concerned for his safety that he hired a special body guard to protect him.

Jane Addams was an American social worker and the founder of Hull House.

Sue Shelton White was a suffragist, lawyer and government official. She was the only known Tennessee woman that was jailed because of her promotion of the suffrage cause.  Sue Shelton White was still working for women’s rights at the time of her death from cancer in 1943.

Between 1904 and 1914 almost 1,000 women were imprisoned because of their suffrage activities.  In 1917 and 1918, almost 500 suffragists were arrested while picketing the White House and 168 were tried, convicted, and locked up for up to seven months.  The charge: blocking traffic on a sidewalk.  No matter the charges leveled against them, the women knew they were jailed for their political beliefs.  They demanded to be treated as political prisoners and staged hunger strikes.  But their demands were met with brutality.  Among those arrested, the youngest was 19 and the oldest was 73. 

Prison conditions for these women were appalling and hard.  In recorded testimonies, many of the suffragists said they endured beatings and were put into cold, unsanitary and rat-infested cells.  For these women, the worst trauma of prison life was the ‘public’ violation of their bodies when being forcibly fed.  This meant that they were fed with tubes, through their nostrils, down their throats or in their rectums, running to their stomachs.  One suffragist described her force feeding as excruciating.  She described her jailers inserting a tube in her throat with a funnel at the top.  Then, they put raw eggs mixed with milk into the funnel until it was overflowing onto her face and prison dress.  After the feeding was over, the prisoner had to wear the dirty dress for days, all the while smelling the stench of rotten milk and eggs.

As news of the extreme treatment began to emerge, public outcry demanded an investigation into conditions at Occoquan Workhouse near Lorton, Fairfax County, Virginia.  On November 27-28, 1917, all imprisoned suffragists were released without condition or explanation.  And, on March 4, 1918, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that each one of the suffragists had been “illegally arrested, illegally convicted, and illegally imprisoned.”  The prisoners received no compensation for their wrongful incarceration.

Death Certificate for Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson, 1920, Tennessee Death Records

Marriage License for Mary Cordelia Beasley and O. C. Hudson, 1872, Tennessee State Marriages Microfilm, 1780-2002

Gravestone of Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson in Camden City Cemetery, 2008, Exhibits Committee Photograph

The first woman to legally vote in any political election in Tennessee was Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson.  According to Mrs. Hudson’s death certificate, she was born in Benton County, Tennessee, on August 1, 1851.  She was the daughter of Reuben Beasley and Elizabeth Brown.  On January 9, 1872, she married O. B. C. Hudson in Benton County.  She and her husband had six children and operated a grocery store near their home in Camden. 

On April 5, 1919, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a limited suffrage act.  Governor Albert H. Roberts signed the suffrage bill into law on April 17, 1919.  A few days following this, on Tuesday, April 22, a municipal election was held in Camden.  Mrs. Hudson, who had joined the suffrage movement in 1918, cast her vote and was quick to point out that she voted for the winner of the election, A. V. Bowls.  A 1919 Nashville Banner article had this to say about Mayor Bowls: 

His Honor, the mayor of Camden, is proud almost to boasting of having had his cause championed by the women of his town.  And he is proud to the point of being “puffed up” in having been the first man in Tennessee to have been elected when women participated in the election.

In 1920, Tennessee was the deciding state in ratifying the 19th Amendment, ensuring women nationwide the right to vote.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Hudson died on October 1, 1920, and was unable to vote in the Presidential election.  She is buried by her husband in the Camden City Cemetery.

While many people do not know about Mrs. Hudson and her contribution to the suffrage movement in Tennessee, the General Assembly has taken steps to ensure that she is not forgotten.  This year, it passed House Joint Resolution 886 honoring Mrs. Hudson for being the first woman to vote in Tennessee.


Legislative History of HJR0886

Dear Son:

     Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!  Don’t keep them in doubt.  I notice some of the speeches against.  They were bitter.  I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet.

     Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification.

Your Mother.

- Note from Phoebe (Febb) Ensminger Burn to her son, 1920

In 1919, Harry T. Burn represented McMinn County in the Tennessee General Assembly.  His family had made its home there for generations and he was well respected in the community.  Burn was an employee of the Southern Railway and President of the Bank of Niota.  He was also president of a textile mill in his home town.   The youngest member of the state legislature, he was elected at age twenty-two and had positions in the State House of Representatives, 1919-1923; State Senate, 1949-1953; State Planning Commission, 1952-1958; and as a delegate for Roane County to the Constitutional  Conventions of 1953, 1959 and 1965.

In history, Burn is remembered for casting the deciding vote to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.  He cast this monumental vote during his first term in the legislature.  Up until that pivotal point, he was an anti-suffragist Republican who planned to vote against the amendment.  After all the debating and arguing - the vote was 48 to 48 - Burn’s vote broke the tie in favor of ratifying the amendment.  When called upon to explain his vote, he listed several reasons:

I believe in full suffrage as a right. I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify.
I know a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.

From his statements, he changed his mind because of his mother’s note persuading him to support the amendment.  Many say his vote cost Burn his political career.  It should be noted that after Burn cast his historic vote, he hid in the attic of the capitol until the maddening crowds cleared away.  It is also rumored that the anti-suffragists were so angry at his decision that they chased him from the chamber, forced him to climb out a window of the Capitol and inch along a ledge to safety.  We are fortunate that this uncommon man listened to his mother’s advice and put thought into his decision, as it guaranteed all American women the right to vote.