By the 1850s most white males over the age of 21 could vote. Women could not.
One of the first public meetings about voting rights for women came at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. But others had mentioned it earlier.
Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, wrote her husband in1776 pointing out that this was a good opportunity to make the status of women equal to men. Her husband apparently did not agree.
After the Civil War, when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed giving U.S. citizens the right to vote no matter what their “race, color or previous condition of servitude,” women still could not vote.
By the early 1900s, more and more people believed that women should have the right to vote. A national organization supporting women’s votes held a convention in Nashville in 1914. One of the events during this convention was a barbeque at The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, that showcased a race between an automobile with a female driver and an airplane with a female pilot.
Despite such interest, not all Tennesseans were in support of suffrage . In 1916 an anti-suffragist organization argued that women’s suffrage would endanger the Southern tradition and way of life.
Others believed a woman’s place was in the home and since politics was outside the home, she shouldn’t vote. Read an argument against women voting by Tennessean John Vertrees.
Tennessee anti-suffragists saw some successes in their efforts. The Tennessee House passed legislation granting women the right to vote in local and presidential elections, but it was voted down by the state senate.
Finally in 1919 women suffragists in Tennessee were able to influence the General Assembly to pass a law granting women the right to vote in city and presidential elections. This along with the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, set up a showdown between pro and anti suffrage proponents in Nashville in August 1920.
Read more about national suffragists leaders
Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Carrie Chapman Catt
- Photograph entitled, “typical street-meeting.” This photo shows a woman speaking before a crowd at a suffrage meeting. A banner reading, “Votes for Women” can also be seen. The photo was taken in Tennessee, probably sometime before 1921. Bryn Mawr Library, Special Collections.
- Photograph of “Tennessee Anti-Suffragists.” The photo shows a group of anti-suffragists posed outside of a building. The caption also states that two suffragists, Laura Clay and Kate Gordon, are also pictured. This photo was taken in Nashville in August of 1920. A small poem against suffrage is also attached to the bottom of the picture. Bryn Mawr Library, Special Collections.
- Photograph entitled, “Anti-suffragists working at the Anti-Ratification Headquarters, Hermitage Hotel.” The photo was taken in August of 1920 in Nashville. Pictured standing near the rear is Josephine A. Pearson , President of the Tennessee State Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage and Vice-President Mrs. George A. Washington. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
- Photograph entitled, “National Woman’s Party Headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.” This photo features a group of suffrage supporters posed in front of their headquarters underneath a “National Woman’s Party” banner. This photo was taken in August of 1920. Library of Congress.
- Photograph showing suffrage supporters in Nashville. Senator Jon C. Houk of Knoxville is shown at the far left, followed by Anita Pollitzer, the legislative secretary, Mayor E. W. Neal of Knoxville and Representative B. L. Johnson from Union County. The group is standing outside of the National Woman’s Party headquarters. Library of Congress.
Confronting the Modern Era >> Life in Tennessee >> Getting a Fair Share >> Women's Suffrage