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The Perfect 36: Tennessee delivers Woman Suffrage

Political History by Carol Lynn Yellin and Janann Sherman

Edited by Ilene Jones-Cornwell
1st Edition
160 pages
Published in 1998
ISBN 0-916078-48-5


Yellin and Sherman bring to life the struggle of suffragists to earn women the right to vote which culminated with the final vote needed for ratification in the Tennessee legislature.The Perfect 36 gives voice to those who were for and against the right of women to vote with a richly illustrated volume. The authors provide a great deal of writings of those who were involved in this important movement along with pictures and cartoons to give a vivid sense of what it was like to win enfranchisement. The Perfect 36 is an important resource for anyone interested in how women and men earned the right for women to fully participate in the democratic process of the United States.


Excerpt: August, 1920, when Tennessee's all-male, all-white, mostly good-ol' boy legislature met for three weeks in special session to defend, denounce, cuss, discuss, and finally to ratify--with a majority of but a single vote--the so-called Susan B. Anthony Amendment.  This action, in effect, marked the moment of enfranchisement for one-half the adult population of the United States, because Tennessee (which was immediately proclaimed "The Perfect 36" by commentators and cartoonists of the day) thereby became the pivotal 36th state needed to complete ratification by three-quarters of the then 48 states.  It also marked the climax of 72 years of ceaseless campaigning by four generations of American women activists. Seasoned veterans of the suffragist struggle said this last battle--Armageddon in Nashville--was the toughest ever. Such it may well have been, since among the things the suffragists and their supporters had to contend with en route to victory were threats, bribes, lawsuits, cajolery, dirty tricks, injunctions, tapped telephones, rumors of kidnappings and double-crossings, fugitive quorums and other parliamentary shenanigans, not to mention overwrought propaganda leaflets distributed by flag-waving, rose-bedecked, anti-suffrage Southern ladies, and free-flowing Tennessee-brewed Jack Daniel's whiskey dispensed 24 hours a day from the liquor lobby's "Hospitality Suite" on the eighth floor of Nashville's Hermitage Hotel. Yet, with all of that, the decisive drama that unfolded during those hectic days in Tennessee that summer must be counted as one of democracy's finer triumphs. Which is, as a matter of fact, pretty much the way the suffragists themselves saw it.  The most undeviating of American idealists, these persevering right-to-vote crusaders at both the national and the home-grown Tennessee level, had become by 1920, as skilled at the art of the possible as any politicians this nation has ever produced. Even though they themselves did not yet have the vote to use as leverage to reward legislators who supported their cause or to punish those who did not, they triumphed. The suffragists won with luck, pluck, and the help of their true-blue menfolk, because they knew, by long experience, that the American system could be made to work.  How they made it work in Nashville, for themselves and for generations of women to come, was the story recreated by "The Perfect 36" exhibit at the University of Memphis, mounted in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the enactment of woman suffrage in the summer of 1995. It is also the story documented in The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delvers Woman Suffrage.


Table of Contents:
Forewords by Tennessee Governor Don and Martha Sundquist, Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, and Tennessee State Senator Steve Cohen
It Happened in Nashville...
The Perfect 36--The Exhibit
The Long Road to Nashville
Pioneers, O Pioneers
The Debate Heats Up: The Suffs and the Antis
Women of Color, Women of Vision, Women of Courage
The Final Showdown, Tennessee, 1920
A Suffrage Sampler
Tennessee's Forgotten Heroes: The Gallant Few
Tennessee's Forgotten Heroines: A Suffrage Roll of Honor


The Perfect 36 is perfect....One of the outstanding accomplishments of the volume is that, in addition to the voluminous record it presents of the suffrage movement and its historic antecedents, it also includes fair and reasonably complete accounts of the arguments made by the opponents of suffrage.
--Jackson Baker, The Memphis Flyer , 6/24/98


Biography of Authors:
Carol Lynn Yellin, a former Associate Editor of Reader's Digest and a Special Projects Editor of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, is a native Oklahoman with degrees in History and Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of the books: Bound for Freedom about resistance to school integration, and The Forgotten Woman, the story of Kasturba Ghandi, wife of Mahatma Ghandi. Her articles have appeared in Harpers, Vogue, Redbook, and American Heritage. Dr. Janann Sherman, assistant professor of History at the University of Memphis, holds a P.h.D in American History from Rutgers University. She is the author of the forthcoming No Place for a Woman: The Life and Times of Senator Margaret Chase Smith, and contributing author to The Home-Front War: World War II and American Society; Gender and Policymaking: Studies of Women in Office; The Impact of Women on American Politics; The Journal of Military History and The Oxford Companion to United States History.

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