Aug. 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Tennessee passing legislation to ratify the 19th Amendment (referred to as the “Anthony Amendment”) to the United States Constitution permitting women the right to vote.
Tennessee’s passage was important because it became the 36th State to ratify the 19th Amendment thereby meeting the constitutional standard to amend the Constitution. Celebrations occurred all over the nation and suffragettes could boast of how their diligent efforts changed our country for a more perfect union.
But behind this momentous event occurring in Nashville on that hot Wednesday, there were many personal stories of courageous legislators standing up against those that thought the change was wrongheaded. For sure, not all supported the idea of expanding the sacred right.
But in Tennessee, as in other states, some sacrificed their own personal political career to enlarge the electorate. Risking all, they sided with what they thought was right and voted to change the course of our nation. My great grandfather Representative Jacob (Jake) Simpson of Cleveland, Tenn. was one of those legislators that wore the yellow rose and proudly cast his ballot for women to vote.
The battle was heated with the divisions clear; supporters of the Amendment wore yellow roses on their lapel while the opposition wore red roses. Gov. Albert Roberts, as well as President Woodrow Wilson, supported the Amendment but the opposition was organized and vocal.
Opponents of the measure warned supporters that the voters would surely turn them out at the next election in an effort to intimidate them. But the yellow roses did not wilt under the intense political pressure and by a close vote of 50 of 99 the pivotal battle was won.
Tennessee made history with the vote and the suffragists in glee rang a miniature Liberty Bell on the House floor. Now it was time for the legislators to go home and face their voters. Some were met with cheers for exhibiting courage and foresight, but others were ridiculed and threatened.
Aug. 18, 1920 was also the date of Jake’s daughter and my grandmother Ethel Simpson’s wedding. Most daughters have their father give them away at wedding ceremony, but Ethel had to stand alone at the altar for her father was in Nashville voting for her and her female decedents the right to vote.
As the wedding neared, Ethel nervously kept asking her mother, “where’s dad?” Jake had hoped to catch the train back the Cleveland to be home in time for his daughter’s wedding but fate had other plans.
As Jake arrived in Cleveland after his daughter’s wedding, several burly local men approached him as he departed the train. They expressed in no uncertain terms disagreement with Jake’s vote and ask in an angry tone why in the world he agreed to allow women to vote.
Trying to diffuse the tense situation, Jake using his keen Irish sense of humor explained that he had eight daughters and a wife and for peace at home he had to vote for the Amendment. As some in the crowd roared with laughter, Jake saw one of his sons awaiting with a Ford Model T and jumped in the car and speeded home.
The next morning, Jake visited his daughter and new son-in-law, Carlos Roberson, a popular barber in Cleveland, to congratulate them on their marriage and apologize for his absence at the ceremony. Little is known in the family exactly how Jake apologized but the words must have succeeded for the bond between father and daughter endured until both died of old age.
I recall my conversations with my grandmother years ago and she had a glowing sense of pride every time she spoke of her father.
The following year, Jake ran for re-election to the General Assembly on a platform of low taxes and better roads. But the majority of voters remembered his vote on the Amendment and turned him out of office.
According to family lore, Jake never once regretted his vote for while the voters frowned on his vote for Women Suffrage; all his daughters adored his courage for taking a stand for their future.
So where was dad that night? He was taking a stand for the future of his and all America’s daughters, both present and future. Thanks great-grandfather Jake for exhibiting a Tennessean “Profile in Courage.”
Hendersonville Alderman, Ward 6