Blog Post

This mural in a small Tennessee town has an amusing backstory

The mural in Sweetwater, Tennessee, about Harry Burns’ mother.

I recently visited the town of Sweetwater, Tenn., for the first time. It was so quaint. It is also home to an underground cave attraction called The Lost Sea, which was also very cool. See photos and read more here.

In downtown Sweetwater, one business had an unusual mural with the word “Hurrah” on it. I thought it odd until I suddenly realized I knew the story behind this mural because I’d written about it in my book “Forgotten Tales of Tennessee. The subject of the story, Harry T. Burn, was an attorney in the small town in the 1900s. Here’s the backstory, excerpted from my book (Order a copy here):

Everyone knows many brave and independent women helped females get the right to vote in the United States.

This is the story of a little-known suffragist: Harry Burn’s mother.

By the spring of 1920, thirty-five of the forty-eight states had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote. Thirty-six were needed. If one more state would ratify quickly, women might have the right to vote in upcoming elections. But Delaware unexpectedly opposed the amendment. All hopes lay with Tennessee.

The Tennessee Senate approved the amendment. But House Speaker Seth Walker  opposed it. The first vote in the House ended in a tie: 48 to 48.

When Walker called for another vote, it was time for Harry Burn to make history. Burn, a Republican representative from McMinn County, was listed as undecided in suffragists polls. Political leaders in McMinn County opposed the movement.

But Burn was being influenced by another party: In his pocket, he carried a letter from his mother. To help sway her son, she referred to Carrie Chapman Catt, women’s suffrage leader and founder of the League of Women Voters.

It read: “Dear Son: Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your Mother.”

Apparently, 24-year-old Harry knew better than to disappoint his mother. He voted yes and the vote was 49-48. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution became law. All because of fifty-five words from Harry Burn’s mother.

Read more about Sweetwater, Tennessee, and the Lost Sea here.

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