A young man who was willing to heed his mother’s advice almost a century ago changed history.

“ … Hurray and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” Phoebe “Febb” Burn urged her 24-year-old son via a letter from home in McMinn County. “I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet ….”

Remembering those words convinced the young man, Tennessee House of Representatives member Harry T. Burn. And with his “aye,” U.S. women gained the right to vote in this country’s elections.

It’s almost appropriate that we reflect on the difference one vote can make as we prepare to celebrate the first century of the 19th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution.

Guaranteeing women the right to vote was one of the most impactful expansions of our democracy. In the years since, women have achieved milestones that many at the founding of this country would have thought improbable, if not impossible.

Women both design and build bridges. They travel to space. They compete in professional sports arenas. They heal in hospitals, pilot jets, make scientific breakthroughs and head up multi-million-dollar corporations. 

They serve as prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges from municipal courtrooms up to the U.S. Supreme Court. They make the laws of our land, with more women than ever elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections than at any period in U.S. history. Tennesseans made history by sending their first-ever woman to the U.S. Senate. And two years earlier, one of the two major political parties nominated a woman as its candidate for president.

A century of impact, all traced back to one vote.

Today’s political arena is fraught with controversy. Health care, immigration, the environment and social problems are only some of the issues that send elected officials to their party corners. Politicians attack each other and the voters on social media. Nobody wants to rock the boat, for the party’s sake.

In the words of Febb Burn, “I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet.”

No matter your leanings, we believe it’s in all of our interests if our leaders cease the partisan postulating and start working together. One person crossing the aisle — either aisle — is all it takes.

One vote can change history.

Recommended for you