Nashville Public Television’s By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South, the latest documentary in our Citizenship Project series, premieres on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash narrates this chronicle of events leading to the turbulent, nail-biting showdown that took place Aug. 18, 1920, in the Tennessee General Assembly. By a single legislator’s vote, which was influenced by a note from his mother, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women in the United States the right to vote.
The U.S. woman’s suffrage movement began in the Northeast as an offshoot of the anti-slavery movement. By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South tells the lesser-known history of the efforts by Southern women to gain the vote in the years following the Civil War through 1920. “It was a different story than what happened in the North and in it was in some ways the least successful part of the movement,” said Mary Makley, the documentary’s producer. “We’re trying to tell how difficult it was to be a Southern suffragist within the broader context of how Tennessee got to be the final state to ratify the 19th Amendment.”
“Women’s legal position was pretty much the same as the legal position of felons,” says Wanda Sobieski, J.D., president of Knoxville’s Suffrage Coalition, in the documentary. Married women had no rights in terms of property, not even to income they might have earned. They did not have child custody rights in cases of divorce.
By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South highlights major figures in Tennessee’s suffrage movement such as Anne Dallas Dudley and Sue Shelton White; as well as anti-suffragist Josephine Pearson and key legislator Harry T. Burn. Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul are among the national activists referenced in the documentary.
In addition to Sobieski, By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South includes appearances by Adele Logan Alexander, Ph.D. (Princess of the Hither Isles: A Black Suffragist Story from the Jim Crow South); Beverly Bond, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, University of Memphis; Carole Bucy, Ph.D., Professor of History, Volunteer State Community College; Mary Evins, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, MTSU; Elna Green, Ph.D., Dean of Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Augusta University; Marjorie Spruill, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of South Carolina; Elaine Weiss (The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote); and Linda Wynn, M.S., Assistant Director for State Programs, Tennessee Historical Commission and Professor of History and Public Administration, Fisk University.
By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South incorporates audio accounts from suffragists Abby Crawford Milton and Dorothy Loomis, as well as 1960s television footage of Rep. Burn. Numerous vintage illustrations, postcards and photographs – including images from Tennessee suffragist parades in 1914 and 1915 – are used throughout the documentary. New illustrations by Holly Carden and original music by Joshua Carter augment this historical program.
After its broadcast premiere, By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South will re-air Sunday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. and will be available for streaming and online viewing at wnpt.org/video. Learn more about Women’s Suffrage Centennial commemoration events in Nashville at visitmusiccity.com/19thamendment.
NPT’s Citizenship Project is a series of original productions about how different groups have fought for, obtained and maintained the rights and access we commonly associate with American citizenship. These include the right to vote, the right to receive a public education, the right to be considered equal before the law, and the right to worship the religion of one’s choice. More about the series is available at wnpt.org/citizenship-project.