Numerous celebrations will occur in March for Women’s History Month. I hope that all these events mention the numbers 72 and 36. What is the significance of the numbers 72 and 36 in women’s history? As Paula Casey, an authority on the 19 amendment, reminded the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Memphis, it took 72 years from the beginning of the Woman’s Suffage Movement in 1848 for women to achieve the right to vote in 1920. For part of my grandmothers’ lives, they did not have the right to cast a ballot. Perhaps your grandmothers or great grandmothers did not have the right to vote.
The significance of the number 36 is that it took 36 states voting to ratify the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote. Tennessee can claim the honor of being the 36th state, and we owe the deciding vote in the Tennessee General Assembly to Harry A. Burn, the youngest legislator and a representative of McMinn County. On the third ballot, young Harry Burn cast his vote based on a letter his mother wrote to him. His vote made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify, providing the majority of states approval needed, not only for women in Tennessee, but in all of the United States to have the right to vote.
The letter from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, began, “Dear Son: Hurrah, and vote for suffrage.” He listen and changed history for all women in the United States.
At a celebration event for Women’s History on March 5 in Memphis, at an assembly of AAUW members and Girls, Inc., organized by Letha Granberry, the chapter celebrated present day “Trailblazers: Women on the Move.” Three women leaders and I had the privilege of speaking on a panel that day about our present leadership roles. Without a doubt, we would not occupy these roles as presidents of colleges and universities, as senior pastor or as fire director for a city without the validation that women have judgement to vote and to lead.
Thank you for the 72 years and the women who fought for us. Thank you to Harry Burn and the Tennessee General Assembly for being the 36th state to ratify and to all for fighting for our rights.
To read more about Tennessee’s role in women achieving the right to vote, read The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage by Carol Lynn Yellin and Janann Sherman from