Put the Rat in Ratification

Cindy ArpFeature

If you think today’s political climate is fraught and you long for those more civil days, think again

“Dauntless, A Woman Suffrage Story,” written by local author Paula W. Hickey, reveals a story of bribery, arrests, lies and just many political intrigues as we see today. With voting rights once more in the headlines, I dropped in on Paula for a discussion of her book.

Cindy: While reading your book, I was amazed there were women against having the vote. In the book you say that woman suffrage is “entangled with racial equality, Northern interference, a changing world order, the Bible, temperance and overall loss of control.”

Paula: Yes, the Civil War’s wounds were far from healed. Originating in Seneca Falls, New York, the suffrage movement was viewed as another instance of northern interference. The Anti suffragettes believed if white women won the vote, Black women would soon follow. This group used the Bible to support their positions, using verses such as women were to be in “subjection to their husbands.”

Echoing today’s conspiracy theories, the anti-suffragists’ propaganda was filled with fear-mongering and pervasive notions such as if women could vote “civilization as we know it would end;” “women would neglect their children;” and “women would become men.”

The group believed their own hysteria. Reminiscent of arguments used against women’s education, men opposed education and voting rights as serious threats to a change of world order. The liquor, textile and railroad interests all opposed the suffrage movement and sent lobbyists and bribery money to Nashville for the legislature’s special session.

These groups feared woman suffrage would lead to regulation of child labor, minimum wage, employers’ responsibility for workers’ job safety, prohibition enforcement and political corruption reforms.

Cindy: Please share the role Rep. Harry T. Burns played in this story.

Paula: A 24-year-old representative, Harry read law for Sen. H. M. Candler of Athens, a rabid opponent of woman suffrage. Harry was an enigma to the Suffragists, sometimes seeming to support them while other times seeming to support the other side.

Initially, Burns voted to table the motion to vote on the ratification bill, but the motion failed. That morning Harry received a letter from his mother, stating she had been watching him and ending with “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

His mother’s letter in his pocket, Harry cast the deciding “Aye” vote, clinching the ratification. The passage defied overwhelming odds. When the suffragists were losing votes due to lobbyists’ pressure, bribery, threats, alcohol and fear-mongering, they never wavered. Their perseverance and courage are awe-inspiring, and their story deserved to be told.

Cindy: We are out of space and haven’t talked about the Suffragettes War of Roses, the colorful lives of the four Suffragettes whose stories you depict in your book, or the fact that less than 10% of history books reference women. As voting rights are again being questioned, “Dauntless: A Woman Suffrage Story” is well worth a read. Union Ave Books, Amazon and Mast General Store all carry copies.

Cindy Arp is a seventh generation educator. She loves hiking, writing, reading and is perpetually curious. You may reach her at: [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *