Tennessee voting in favor of suffrage was an unexpected victory (Episode 86). For the next 6 days Anti-suffragists tried to rescind the vote on legal technicalities. Some legislators even fled the state so that the state congress could not call a quorum. However on August 24, 1920, Albert H. Roberts, Governor of Tennessee, certified the official ratification document and sent it on a train to Washington D.C. The packet of papers arrived in the nation’s capitol at 4 a.m. on August 26. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby had it sent to his house. He would officially and quietly sign it into law at 8 a.m. without the presence of any women suffragists.
Members of both the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) had asked to be present. Leaders like Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul wanted to film the event as well. Both of these requests were turned down. Colby was worried that the personal conflict between Catt and Paul and the added drama of reporters with cameras would result in unnecessary spectacle and tensions. He stated “Inasmuch as I am not interested in the aftermath of any of the friction or collisions which may have been developed in the long struggle for the ratification of the amendment, I have contented myself with the performance in the simplest manner of the duty devolving upon me under the law.”
Abby Scott Baker, a suffragist with the NWP, is quoted as having said, “It was quite tragic. This was the final culmination of the women’s fight, and women, irrespective of factions, should have been allowed to be present when the proclamation was signed. However, the women of America have fought a big fight and nothing can take from them their triumph.”
Carrie Chapman Catt asked Colby to do a reenactment of the signing in order to film it. Colby declined on the grounds that a staged imitation for publicity purposes would detract from the dignity of the event. However Colby remarked that this was “an opening of a great and new era in the political life of the nation”, and offered sincere congratulations to all the women.
When League of Women Voters lobbyist Jessie Haver Butler (WCW 84) learned that the Amendment had been ratified, she got permission from Catt to plan a celebration event in Washington D.C. at the Poli’s Theater. Colby would read a letter of congratulations from President Wilson and Catt had her triumphant speech ready to go. Lots of people who had not been in favor of suffrage before now wanted to attend the historic event. The NWP women could attend but were not officially invited to take part in the ceremonies and were not allowed on stage.
Understanding that the combined efforts of progressives and moderates had been necessary to get passage of the 19th Amendment, Butler tried to intervene and bring unity to the women’s movement by personally asking Catt to allow members of the NWP to share the stage with the NAWSA at the celebration. Catt admitted that it would be the right thing but could not bring herself to do it. The personal conflict between Carrie Chapman Catt, leader of the more moderate NAWSA, and Alice Paul, leader of the more radical NWP, was too great (Episode 65). The NWP had already begun to be erased from the mainstream suffrage narrative and received little attention from the press. On the evening of the victory celebration at Poli’s Theater, Alice Paul held a meeting at NWP headquarters and began formulating an idea for a new amendment, one that would protect against gender discrimination for more than just the vote.
This week’s song pick:
“Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas https://youtu.be/68Uv959QuCg
Episode 87 Sources:
“New York TImes” article from August 27, 1920
Jessie Haver Butler’s personal memoir “From Cowgirl to Congress” pages 120-121 has a detailed account of her conversation with Carrie Chapman Catt. Jessie’s memoir was published posthumously by her granddaughter, Mila Johansen. https://www.milajohansen.com/books