19th AMENDMENT: Democracy in action had triumphed | TheUnion.com

19th AMENDMENT: Democracy in action had triumphed

Jessie Haver Butler with Mila Johansen
Special to The Union
Jessie Haver Butler taught women the art of public speaking. She wrote “Time to Speak Up” and lectured alongside such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and Marlo Thomas. She spoke out for women’s rights throughout her life and well into her 90s.
Butler Johansen Historical Archives

Editor’s note: In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, author Mila Johansen shared this excerpt with The Union from her new book with her grandmother, Jessie Haver Butler, “From Cowgirl to Congress: Journey of a Suffragist on the Front Lines” which can be ordered at area bookstores and is available at Amazon.com.

From “Cowgirl to Congress” is an eyewitness account of Mila Johansen’s grandmother, Jessie Haver Butler, a suffragist on the front lines of the women’s movement.

Jessie escaped a childhood of unthinkable tragedies on a Colorado cattle ranch to attend Smith College, which propelled her into the center of the fight for the rights of women. Inspired by meeting Susan B. Anthony at age 10, she later worked side by side with Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt.

When women won the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920, Jessie became the first official woman lobbyist at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. She also helped establish the Pulitzer School of Journalism and set the first minimum wage for women. She went on to live in London, where she shared the podium with George Bernard Shaw, attended parties with Emily Pankhurst, influenced the queen, and met her lifelong friend Lady Astor.

Jessie later taught women the art of public speaking. She wrote “Time to Speak Up” and lectured alongside such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, and Marlo Thomas. She spoke out for women’s rights throughout her life and well into her 90s.

This timely memoir takes us back to the suffrage movement and beyond and includes unpublished letters from historical figures, as well as never before seen photographs. Jessie Haver Butler was an extraordinary woman, who lived her life with a spirit of adventure and open-mindedness. She was a mother, wife, and active community member, and her story weaves these threads together to complete her compelling journey — from cowgirl to Congress.


After all our efforts, state after state ratified the suffrage amendment until the total reached 35. We needed only one more state endorsement in favor of ratification. The governor of Tennessee was finally persuaded to call a special session of the state Legislature to take action for or against the amendment.

All eyes were now focused upon Nashville. Representatives of many special interests promptly descended in force upon that Southern city: lobbyists for the liquor industry, the meatpackers, the railroads, and others who feared the women’s vote; delegates from the Woman’s Party, whose militant tactics were considered “unladylike” by many Southerners; anti-suffragists, wearing bright red roses; a few former friends of suffrage who opposed the amendment on the ground that it violated states’ rights; spokesmen for the Democratic and Republican national committees; and, of course, Mrs. Catt and her cohorts. All were there when the Legislature convened on Aug. 9, 1920.

The methods used by the opponents of the amendment showed old-time politics at its worst. Corn liquor flowed freely — it was alleged that many of the legislators were drunk most of the time, and this in a state practicing prohibition!

Scurrilous handbills circulated attacking Mrs. Catt and her followers. Children booed her as she walked along the streets, and even spat at her. The opposition tapped her telephone and opened her mail.

Then came the dramatic conclusion of the struggle. I love the story of the mountain woman whose letter to her son brought victory for the cause of suffrage. It happened this way: Young Harry Burn, a member of the Tennessee Legislature, who everyone expected to vote against ratification, gave the deciding vote.

After some days of debate, an effort was made by opponents of suffrage to delay action by introducing a motion to table the resolution calling for ratification. A tie vote resulted, and the motion lost. Now the vote on ratification could no longer be postponed. As they called the roll, Burn voted for ratification.

Men rushed up to him, pounded his back, told him he had made a mistake, insisted that he change his vote before the roll call ended. But he shook his head, maintaining that his vote remained final and that he wanted it to stand.

When the roll call reached the last name, by a majority of one vote, 17 million women were finally admitted to the franchise.

Sensing a story behind Burn’s change of heart, newspapermen from the press associations rushed to question him. Whereupon he pulled out of his pocket a letter from his mother, which had arrived that morning:


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.

The reporters, skeptical of the letter’s authenticity, hired cars and set out to see the woman who had written it. They found her, in the late afternoon, carrying in pails of fresh milk. After she invited them to sit down on stools at the kitchen table, they asked, “How did you happen to write this note to your son?”

“You see,” she explained, “in the winter, we like to read Shakespeare out loud. Shakespeare is always ‘funning’ with words. So, I thought I would write my son to help Mrs. Catt, and then I thought about Shakespeare and how he liked to ‘fun’ with words, so I thought I would try it too. That’s all.”

At last the long struggle was over, settled in the end through the influence of a farm woman, named Phoebe Ensminger Burn, in the mountains of Tennessee. Fifty years of hard work had ended, giving 17 million women the vote. Never in a thousand years had the suffragettes expected such an ending. Democracy in action had triumphed.

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