Woman Suffrage: A Tale of Two Centuries

Woman Suffrage

Every month seems to have its major national holiday except August. Yet for American women, August holds one of the most important dates, August 26, 1920. This date brought full suffrage or the right to vote for women in America.

About a week before on August 18, 1920, freshman Tennessee State Representative Harry T. Burns had read a letter from his mother that encouraged him to help Carrie Catt put the “rat in ratification”. The letter referred to a popular cartoon at the time which showed an old woman chasing a rat with a broom. Burns propelled Tennessee to the national spotlight by casting the tie-breaking vote that ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Called the 1878 Susan B Anthony Amendment, it states:
Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

But the road to woman suffrage actually began nearly one hundred years earlier in a small New York town called Seneca Falls, where some 300 women assembled to pass the Declaration of Sentiments which called for equal rights for women. As early as 1828, Frances Wright, a Scotswoman, publicly announced her support for women's rights, abolition of slavery, sexual emancipation, and mental independence to a rather significant Tennessee audience.

From Seneca Falls the road went west to Wyoming to make the fight for woman suffrage a movement from west to east with many of the original 13 states being the last to accept woman suffrage. One key player in the Wyoming movement was Esther Morris. Esther had been born Esther McQuigg in 1820 in New York. When her mother died, eleven year old Esther managed the raising of her younger brothers and the household chores. At nineteen she became a dressmaker and soon opened a hat shop in Oswego, New York. She began attending abolitionists meetings at her local Baptist church, the first antislavery church established in the country. When she was 28, she married Artemus Slack and had a son Archy. The accidental death of Artemus spurred her decision to move to Illinois and live on land that Slack owned.

However, in Illinois, Esther was faced with discrimination and the loss of her inheritance based purely on her being female. Undeterred, Esther opened another hat shop to support her son and herself. Soon she married a Polish immigrant named John Morris. In 1851, she birthed twin boys, Edward and Robert. Esther witnessed the Civil War and saw her son Archy fight with the North to end slavery. Her husband John had never been very successful in Illinois, so he and Archy followed the discovery of gold and moved to the Wyoming Territory in 1868. Esther and the twins followed in 1869.

At fifty-five years old, Esther Morris moved to South Pass City, a rowdy gold rush town. Archy purchased a printing press to begin a newspaper. John ran the saloon. Esther opened a hat shop. Soon Esther became the town nurse and midwife. A call for all males who were at least 21 to vote in the first territorial elections caused her to open her home for a meet the candidates ”tea”. When everyone was assembled, Esther asked if the candidates would support a bill to give women the right to vote. Colonel William Bright agreed and Herman Nickerson, the other candidate also gave his support. Esther Morris wrote letters and visited with families to convince the men to vote for the bill. In 1869, Wyoming gave suffrage to women.

Esther Morris continued her fight for national suffrage. She attended the 1895 National Suffrage Convention. At home in Wyoming, Esther became a Justice of the Peace. When her son Archy, the Court Clerk, swore her in, Esther became the first woman in the United States to hold public office and the first female judge. Today statues of Esther Morris stand in the Wyoming State Capitol and in Congress's Statuary Hall in Washington, DC as a testament to her fortitude and dedication to woman suffrage.

A children's book written by Linda Arms White and titled I Could Do That: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote is an educational and entertaining approach to the women's movement.

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Obituary

Norma Jean (Joe) Hutchison

Norma Jean (Joe) Hutchison of Knoxville passed away peacefully in her home on May 21, 2018. She was 81 years old. She was a member of Glenwood Baptist Church and the Band of Sisters Sunday School Class. She was preceded in death by her husband, James (Jim) Hutchison; mother, Charlcie Sears; sister, Nancy Klaasse; nephew, Barry Cleveland. She is survived by her nephews, Brian Cleveland and Jeff Ammons; nieces, Robin Ammons Hipsky and Trina Ammons.

Kathy Elaine Buck Williams

Kathy Elaine Buck Williams-age 64 of Maynardville went to be with the Lord Sunday morning, May 20, 2018 at North Knoxville Medical Center. She was a member of Little Valley Baptist Church. Kathy was a loving mother, grandmother and sister who was loved by all who knew her. Preceded in death by parents, Don and Jenna Lou Tharpe; former husband, Mitchell Buck; special aunts and uncles, Joanne and J. D. Wallace, Mary and John Tharpe.

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Ellen Beth Lynch, age 58, passed away peacefully at home on Sunday, May 20, 2018, after a courageous battle with cancer. Beth was born and raised in Knoxville. She was of the Christian faith and walked daily in His presence. Beth was the self-employed owner of Salon Twenty-One. She was preceded in death by her father Joseph Donald Holt; brother-in-law Ron Reagan; special boy and furry friend "Woody".

Edna Lee Weaver Smith

Edna Lee Weaver Smith, age 101. Passed away May 18, 2018. She was preceded in death by husband Clyde E. Smith, parents M.U. and Lena Weaver. Son-in-law Homer Smith and Granddaughter Melinda Sue Smith. She is survived by children Don Smith, Betty Rae Smith, Shirley Smith, Polly Land (Ted) and Vaughn Smith. Grandchildren Scott Smith, Kris Land and Piper Montana Smith. The family will receive friends from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. May 21, 2018 at Mynatt Funeral Home Halls Chapel. Family and friends will meet at Mynatt Funeral Home Halls Chapel May 22, 2018 at 10:15 a.m.

Swan Chamberlain, Jr.

Swan Chamberlain, Jr.-age 74 of Luttrell went home to be with Jesus Saturday, May 19, 2018. Member of Willow Springs Baptist Church. U. S. Army Veteran. Preceded in death by son, Robert Chamberlain; parents, Swan and Trula Perkey Chamberlain; brothers, Paul, Jimmy and Sammy Chamberlain; sisters, Joann Beeler, Barbara Brown.

Robert Wilson Johnson

Robert Wilson Johnson – was born on August 12, 1930 and passed away on May 16, 2018. He was a member of Church Street United Methodist Church of Knoxville and a graduate of Central High School. Robert was a veteran of the United States Air Force. He received a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Agriculture Economics from the University of Tennessee and was retired from the United States Department of Agriculture after 29 years of service.

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