County Mayor Jim Coppinger discusses women's suffrage in the home of voting rights leader Abby Crawford Milton in Fortwood
photo by Joseph Dycus
Hamilton County kicked off its historic centennial celebration of women’s suffrage at an equally historic location. Congregating at Abby Crawford Milton’s former estate, a collection of historians, governmental figures, and Hamilton County dignitaries gathered in the stately mansion in Fortwood to formally declare the start of the year-long celebration.
Linda Moss Mines, Hamilton County historian, said, “Her spirit is still here. Every time a woman votes, a woman steps forward to lead a committee, whether it’s Rotary or Kiwanis or on a foundation board, there’s a little bit of Abby Crawford Milton there with them.”
Ms. Milton, a leading suffragette during the movement for equal voting rights, was from Milledgeville, Ga., but had adopted Chattanooga as her home town. She was noted for travelling to all corners of the state in order to lobby for equal voting rights. Tennessee was the deciding state in the battle for women’s voting rights, and Tennessee’s own vote came down to one man named Harry Burn.
Ms. Milton lived until the astounding age of 110, and even recorded an interview just before she passed. Rep. Robin Smith played the recording, where Ms. Milton recounted the story of how Mr. Burn decided to vote for suffrage.
“When Harry Burn voted for the suffragists, he sort of, for the first time, broke the deadlock,” said Ms. Milton on the recording, “His mother had made him promise that if it came to his vote, that he would favor the women. And he kept that promise to his mother.”
Ms. Mines, wearing the attire suffragists would have worn a century ago, believed that even though women’s suffrage was a battle 100 years old, it is one that should not be forgotten.
“It’s incredibly important. I’m a firm believer that we have to know where we have been to understand where we are, and we have to plan appropriately for where we want to be,” said Ms. Mines, “Even today, there are still issues related to the right to vote, and that campaign needs to continue so that all our citizens have the right to vote.
Continuing on this tangent, the historian implored her fellow citizens to not take their voting rights for granted. After all, the woman who they were honoring devoted a large portion of her life to securing half of the population the ability to exercise this right.
“I do really believe it’s our greatest right as Americans and citizens, and it is also our greatest responsibility,” said Ms. Mines, “It’s critical, and Jefferson said this so many times, it’s critical the electorate be informed and that they understand the issues, and they vote for the good of the nation and not for the individual.”
Ms. Mines said the celebrations, which will be announced at a later date, will focus on more than just the life of Ms. Milton. The county will also celebrate the other suffragists, who along with Ms. Milton helped give women the right to vote.
“At a time when women had very little rights, and women of color and European women had fewer rights, they joined together. In many ways, the suffrage movement was also an equal rights movement, and we’re going to celebrate those movements all over the county too.”
Abby Crawford Milton