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In August, 1920, the nation’s eyes were on Tennessee. The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote throughout the country, had passed at the federal level a year earlier, and was making its way through state legislatures for ratification. It needed 36 states to approve it, and was stalled at 35. Tennessee was its best hope for ratification. The final vote for ratification at the State Capitol in Nashville on August 18, 1920 was historic not only in its outcome, but also for its thrilling 11th-hour circumstances and the great uncertainty surrounding that outcome.

The stories of Tennesseans’ roles in the women’s suffrage movement – culminating with Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th amendment 100 years ago – are at the heart of a new 8,000 square-foot, two gallery exhibition at the Tennessee State Museum. Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Voteopens April 24, 2020 and runs through March 28, 2021.

In Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote, curated by assistant chief curator Miranda Fraley Rhodes, Ph.D., the Tennessee State Museum explores the circumstances in and around Nashville that August, and also delves into the story of women’s suffrage throughout the entire state of Tennessee in the decades leading up to the vote – and its impact on the century that followed.

“The ratification of the 19th Amendment was a major step forward in recognizing women as equal participants in American democracy and public life,” said Rhodes. “For Tennessee women, this was especially important. They continued to face discriminatory laws that limited their rights to their children and prohibited them from activities like serving on juries. With the power of the vote, women gained a critical tool to demand change from state and local governments. It was a milestone in American and Tennessean women’s ongoing search for equality.”

From the state’s beginnings, women found ways to express their political views. In the 1840s, a national women’s suffrage movement began to develop in the North, with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention – the first women’s rights convention held in the United States.  After the Civil War and Reconstruction, Tennessee suffragists took up the cause and spent many years building the movement within the state, despite considerable opposition.

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