Nearly a century ago, the right to vote for women in the United States came down to a fierce, six-week battle staged in Nashville, Tennessee. After 72 years of fighting, suffragists from around the country made one last push to pass the 19th amendment.
“In summer 1920, thirty-five states had ratified the 19th amendment to allow women to vote, but one more state was needed to ratify the U.S. Constitution,” said author Elaine Weiss. “If the Tennessee legislature approved it, suffrage would be the law of the land, just in time for the 1920 presidential election in the fall. If it failed in Tennessee, it could be delayed indefinitely, and suffragettes were very worried the movement would be over for their lifetimes.”
This true-history drama is the subject of Weiss’s latest book, The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight for the Vote, and the topic she discussed as this year’s featured speaker for the 2019 Hazelett Forum. The 12th annual event was hosted by the Randall L. Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence and supported in part through a grant from Indiana Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the forum Weiss discussed how the efforts in 1920 constituted the largest expansion of the voting franchise in U.S. history, giving voice to half of the nation’s population. But she says the victory – which still wasn’t extended to minority men and women for several more decades - wasn’t limited to voter rights.
“The 19th amendment was also a cultural shift in the roles and rights of women. It’s a change that is ongoing today,” she said. “It’s one of the defining civil rights struggles in our nation’s history, cutting to the heart of what democracy means: who gets to participate in our government? Who has a voice? When we say ‘We the people,’ who do we really mean? We’re still asking those same questions today.”