Documentary to Highlight Tennessee's Role in Women's Suffrage Movement

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

One young man from McMinn County forever altered the course of American history when decided to listen to his mother.

On an August day in 1920, Harry Burn - the Tennessee General Assembly's youngest member - cast a vote in favor of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His vote broke a 48-48 tie in the General Assembly.

That made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment, which clinched its inclusion in the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment gave women the right to vote for the first time. And Burn, who had been opposed to the amendment, admitted that he changed his mind after receiving a note from his mother encouraging him to vote yes.

That dramatic vote, and the years of debate about women's suffrage that preceded it, are being recounted in a documentary by Nashville film producer Yoshie Lewis.

Lewis and her associate producer Brian Allison recently visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives to look for visual content related to the suffrage movement and the era in which it occurred. Some of the documents and photos they viewed at the State Library and Archives will appear in "Perfect 36," the documentary that's scheduled for release next year.

Lewis said her interest in the local suffrage movement was piqued when she heard a talk about the history of the Hermitage Hotel, a site where both pro- and anti-suffragists gathered in the run-up to the 1920 vote.

"I felt like (the documentary) was the right fit for me," said Lewis, whose Nashville-based company, Pretzel Pictures, is working on the project. "As a woman and a Nashvillian, I felt like I was a good candidate to tell this story."

Lewis said she and her team have spent five years researching the topic. Given the impact the 19th Amendment has had on American politics and government, she said she was surprised to learn that apparently no one has produced a full-length documentary on the subject before.

"It is a story of national importance," Lewis said. "I'm absolutely stunned that no one has done it."

Nashville will be prominently featured in the documentary, but other significant events in the suffrage movement that happened elsewhere will also be covered.

"The story didn't start here, but it ended here," Lewis said.

Although the story about the amendment's passage is full of "drama and humor," Lewis said the documentary will take an academic approach to recounting what happened.

American Public Television has agreed to distribute the documentary nationwide to PBS network stations that are interested in airing it. The plan is for a March 2016 release to coincide with Women's History Month in the presidential election year.

There is also a feature film in development based on the suffrage movement. Although the production schedule for the feature film is somewhat tentative, Lewis and Allison are working to coordinate distribution at or around 2020, the 100-year anniversary of Tennessee's ratification vote.

Allison said the film will focus more on the human drama of the story as seen through the characters' eyes.

Documents readily available for viewing, free of charge, at the State Library and Archives help to set the scene of what life was like in Nashville during that period in history, Allison said.

"It's amazing to have a resource where I can walk in, pull up microfilm, and leave with a wealth of knowledge," Allison said.

Secretary Hargett said he's always pleased to hear comments like that about the State Library and Archives.

"I'm proud that the State Library and Archives has been and continues to be an important resource for researchers who want to learn more about various topics related to Tennessee history," Secretary Hargett said. "Tennessee's ratification of the 19th Amendment was one of the prouder moments in our state's history and it is certainly a worthy subject for a documentary."

To view the State Libary and Archives' online exhibit about the suffrage movement, go to: http://www.state.tn.us/tsla/exhibits/suffrage/index.htm


Signal Mountain Genealogical Society Meets Nov. 6

The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society will meet at 1 p.m. on  Tuesday, Nov. 6 , at the Signal Mountain Public Library.  The speaker for the day will be Linda Mines, a well-known historian within the Chattanooga area and the official historian for Chattanooga and Hamilton County.  She is the First Vice-Regent of the Chief John Ross Chapter of the Daughters ... (click for more)

What Was That Stone Arch Halfway Up Lookout Mountain?

As a child in the early- to mid-70s the majority of our summer vacations were to Tennessee - a stop in Chattanooga then on to Gatlinburg.  We always visited the Incline, Ruby Falls and Rock City.    On the way up Lookout Mountain, I’m not sure of the road, there was a stone/cement type monument along the roadway with what looked to be a tongue sticking out ... (click for more)

City "Moves Away" From $4 Million Light Show On Walnut Street Bridge

The city is no longer pursuing a plan for a $4,050,000 light show on the Walnut Street Bridge. Dennis Malone, assistant city engineer, told City Council members on Tuesday, "We have moved away from that project." The council had earlier pulled capital funding that had been proposed for the "Ripples of Light" on the historic "walking bridge" that dates to 1891. “Ripples ... (click for more)

Developer Of Publix Grocery At St. Elmo To Go Before Variance Board

The developer of a planned Publix grocery in St. Elmo will go before the City Board of Zoning Appeals on Nov. 7 seeking three variances. Mike Price of MAP Engineers said the grocery has been working with community members to try to come up with an acceptable plan for the site where the former Mt. Vernon Restaurant and Pizza Hut are located. There has been controversy over ... (click for more)

Drink Up, Chattanooga

I attended the meeting to discuss the placement of the sewage treatment plant at the Cambridge Center in Ooltewah today. My problem with the meeting (aka) dog and pony show, is that the meeting started out with the agenda of the Ooltewah Community Council.  After living in this area for 45+ years I have never heard of this group.  I would like for someone to answer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Vols: ‘Don’t Let Up’

The idea was hatched a couple of years ago. Some Tennessee football fanatic had gotten wind that an Oklahoma player had documented his baptism to havoc inside Neyland Stadium. Offensive lineman Ty Darlington was part of that 2015 double-overtime slugfest against the Vols and, afterwards, remembered OU’s 34-27 win – after being down by 17 points earlier – was an absolute “dissertation” ... (click for more)