A! Magazine for the Arts

Tennessee State Museum exhibit depicts struggle for the right to vote

August 25, 2020

“Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote” is on display at the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.

In August of 1920, the nation’s attention was 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 now 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 Aug. 18, 1920 was historic not only in its outcome, but for its thrilling 11th-hour circumstances and the great uncertainty surrounding that outcome.

There is, of course, much more to the story. In this 8,000 square-foot, two-gallery exhibition, the Tennessee State Museum not only explores the circumstances in and around Nashville that August, but also delves into the story of women’s suffrage throughout the state of Tennessee in the decades leading up to the vote. From the state’s beginnings, women found ways to express their political views. In the 1840s, a national women’s suffrage movement started to develop in the North. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, Tennessee suffragists spent many years building the movement within the state despite considerable opposition. “Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote” at the Tennessee State Museum uses artifacts, documents, large-scale graphics, videos, interactive elements and public programming to share the stories of the Tennesseans who came to have decisive roles in American women’s struggle to gain voting rights.

Sullivan County’s story is about Anne Lee Worley of Bluff City, who became one of the first women to serve as a state senator in 1921 when she won a special election to fill her deceased husband’s office. She successfully sponsored a bill in the Senate which removed all limitations on women holding public offices in Tennessee.

Visit https://tnmuseum.org/ to see the exhibit online.

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