Today in Feminist History: Baker Kicks Ratification into High Gear (June 21, 1920)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

June 21, 1920: The new strategy announced yesterday by the National Woman’s Party of focusing on Tennessee as the final State needed to ratify the Susan B. Anthony Amendment has now shifted into high gear.

PHOTO: Abby Scott Baker, member of the National Woman’s Party’s Executive Committee, and a former “Silent Sentinel” who served time in the infamous Occoquan Workhouse in 1917 for picketing President Wilson over his failure to endorse or work for the Anthony Amendment at that time.

Today, N.W.P. members who are already at the site of next week’s Democratic Convention in San Francisco began pressuring Democrats into delivering Tennessee.

Abby Scott Baker—the N.W.P.’s official representative here—told Democrats that unless they come through with that 36th State, her group would oppose their party for failure to ratify in one of their States the same way it has opposed Republicans for failing to get two Republican governors to call special sessions of their legislatures in their States so that the amendment could be ratified in at least one.

Baker said that if the amendment isn’t ratified soon, the N.W.P. would at the very least advise women in suffrage States to avoid voting for either of the two major parties. It might even affiliate itself with what she called a “proposed new third party,” presumably the Farmer-Labor Party, as a way of draining votes away from both Republicans and Democrats in November.

Though picketing was done at the recent Republican Convention, it will not be done here. It was only earlier this month that a Supreme Court decision appears to have cleared the way for the present Tennessee Legislature to vote on the Anthony Amendment, and Democratic Party leaders have not had sufficient time to apply pressure to Governor Roberts of Tennessee to call a special session of the legislature. As Baker puts it:

“Previously, we have not blamed the Democrats as we have the Republicans because we have taken the position of ‘no got, no can do.’ Now we see that Democrats with Tennessee are just as able to give us the thirty-sixth State ‘off the shelves’ as were the Republicans to take down and wrap up for us either Connecticut or Vermont. We believe the Democrats will be quick to see the running start toward victory they can gain by giving all women the vote and that they will do everything in their power to that end. We will not picket this convention if they do not, because we feel there has not been enough time to work upon Governor Roberts as there has been in the case of the Vermont and Connecticut governors. In addition, there is no time left to organize a picketing demonstration.”

Naturally, Democratic women arriving here are quite eager to see their party get the credit for bringing the battle for woman suffrage to a victorious end in Democratic Tennessee. Up until now, Republicans have provided the vast majority of support for equal suffrage, and women in States where they can already vote know it.

The Anthony Amendment was originally introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron Sargent, Republican of California. When the amendment passed the House last year by the required 2/3 majority, it was with the support of 91.3 percent of Republicans and only 59 percent of Democrats. In the Senate, only 54 percent of Democrats voted in favor, while 81.8 percent of Republicans did so, pushing it over the two-thirds mark. Of the 35 States that have ratified, 26 have Republican legislatures, six are controlled by Democrats, and in three, one House is Republican and the other Democratic.

So, Democratic women will be working with N.W.P. members to get the Democratic Party to put a strong suffrage plank in its platform, and to do everything it can to pressure Governor Roberts to call the Tennessee Legislature back into session to get that final approval. This promises to be an exciting summer, and hopefully the last one in which it will be necessary to work to ban sex discrimination at the polls. 


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.