Be A Good Boy, Harry Burn

It was August 18, 1920 when tempers flared and the pressure on the State of Tennessee became unbearable, the venue was a special legislative session to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Congress needed 36 of the 40 states to ratify in order to amend the US Constitution. It all came down to one vote, one state, one mother’s letter and one 24 year old named Harry Burn.

Harry Burn was a Republican Tennessee State Representative, his mother, Phoebe (Febb) Burn was a woman of intelligence reading three newspapers daily. However, no matter how intelligent, she could not vote. Men in her employ on the farm could vote despite their inability to read or write. 

So stood Representative Harry Burn in 1920 with the deciding vote to break the 48-48 tie in favor of ratifying the 19th amendment. In all previous discussions, Burn was voting against the ratification. With the words of his mother’s letter on his heart, he changed that vote to yes, breaking the deadlock and receiving a angry reaction from his fellow General Assembly members. That one changed mind from that one mother’s letter made Tennessee the decisive state passing the 19th Amendment.

A monument honoring Harry T. Burn and his mother for their roles in the right to vote was erected by the Suffrage Coalition in Knoxville near Clinch Avenue & Market Square. It features Febb Burn standing with son, Harry Burn seated, her hand gripping his shoulder, a statement in sculpture expressing the encouragement for him to vote in favor of ratification, to forbid the US Constitution from restricting voting privileges on the basis of gender.

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