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The world’s last official telegram was sent in India on July 14, but sending telegrams has not been completely terminated.  An obscure international telegraph service will continue to operate on the Indian sub-continent. Cheaper long-distance telephone calls, the Internet and modern technology helped to bring about the demise of the telegraph just as the telegraph helped to bring about the demise of the Pony Express.

In times past, important messages of happiness, sorrow  and “Greetings from Uncle Sam” were delivered in that infamous yellow envelop. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, sending telegrams was almost a thing of the past. Most of us have never received and have not sent a telegram. Western Union delivered its very last telegram in 2006. 

Even though telegrams are something we do not relate to today, they should hold a very special place in American women’s hearts. Let’s board a time machine and take a trip back to the summer of 1920 and stop in Nashville. As you might expect, August in Nashville is hot and muggy. Air conditioning, invented in 1902, has not yet come into widespread use. 

The city is teeming with reporters and Suffragettes clamoring to get the first news about the Tennessee legislature’s vote on the 19th Amendment.  The outcome of the Tennessee vote would give women the right to vote or once again tell women they were second-class citizens.  There were just 48 states in 1920, and 36 states were needed to ratify the amendment.  Thirty-five states had already voted “yes.”  (Kentucky voted “yes” on Jan. 13 that year).  Prior to this, Susan B. Anthony brought notoriety to the women’s suffrage movement by illegally voting in the election of 1872.  She wrote to her fellow Suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that she did indeed vote and voted a “Republican ticket — straight.”  She claimed the recently passed 15th Amendment, which granted African-Americans the right to vote also granted women the same right. She was immediately arrested, brought to trial and found guilty.  The Republican Party, which led the fight in passing the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), the 14th Amendment (granting slaves citizenship), and the 15th Amendment (giving them the right to vote), also rose to the forefront in helping women obtain the right to vote. In 1878, Republican Sen. A.A. Sargent, California, introduced the 39 words that would eventually become the 19th Amendment. It became known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. In 1917, several years before women obtained the universal right to vote, Republican Jeannette Rankin, Montana, became the first woman elected to Congress. When Republicans regained control of Congress, the 19th Amendment passed the House in May and the Senate in June of 1919. (Is that a Republican War for Women?) Now it had to be passed by three-fourths of the states before it would become the law of the land.  All the hullaballoo resulted in Nashville also being known for its War of Roses. Suffragettes and those in favor of women getting the right to vote chose to wear yellow roses. Anti-Suffragettes wore red roses. Legislators also displayed their choices by wearing roses on their lapels. On Aug. 18 that year, legislators began entering the capital building. They were about to determine the voting fate of American women. Roses were counted. Forty-seven legislators wore yellow roses and 49 wore red roses on their collars. The outcome seemed to be a fait accompli. The roll call vote began, and Rep. Banks Turner came over to the Suffragettes’ side resulting in a 48-48 tie. A second roll call vote was taken, and the vote remained tied.  They readied for a third vote. Tempers started to flare. The vote began. Even though he wore a red rose, Henry Burn, the youngest legislator, changed his vote to “yea.”  Pandemonium erupted. Those opposed to women’s suffrage began chasing Burn around the room. To escape the wrath of angry legislators, Burn climbed out the third-floor window of the capitol and worked his way along the ledge and hid in the attic. After tempers died down, Burn reappeared. His red rose was still intact, but what could not be seen was the telegram from his mother that was in his pocket. Febb Ensminger Burn sent a telegram from east Tennessee urging her son to do the right thing and vote for the women.  Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920 — just 93 years ago, and Susan B. Anthony had been dead for 14 years, 5 months, and 5 days.  It was certified into law on Aug. 26, 1920.  One vote gave American women universal suffrage.  Never listen to anyone who tells you that your vote does not count.  Because of a telegram and one vote, American women have the Constitutional right to vote, and you can tweet that to your friends.

WILLEE COOPER is a former teacher and military spouse. A Hopkinsville resident, she is past president of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Her column runs on the first and third Friday of each month. Reach her at

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