Somehow it's not surprising that a son of one of the 19th century's most dynamic and independent women was part of the campaign for women's right to vote. Joseph Hayes Acklen, pictured here, was Adelicia's oldest surviving child by Joseph A. S. Acklen. After a career in the Louisiana legislature, Joseph H. Acklen, an attorney educated at Cumberland University, moved back to Nashville where he entered private practice. Leadership positions in the Davidson County Democratic Party, the State Bar Association and service on the Nashville City Council put him in good position to navigate the complicated waters of ratification.
For ratification was far from a straight forward task, and the politics of simply bringng the amendment to a vote by the Tennessee legislature required astute political accumen and a clear understanding of law. Sounds complicated? Well it was. Acklen was the constitutional expert who illuminated the path forward.
The history of Women's Suffrage had of course begun generations before and was carried forward by women of strength and intellect just like Joseph's mother, Adelcia. However, it wasn't until June 1920 when a Supreme Court ruling brought the passage of the amendment into the realm of possible. That ruling called for ratification by the legislature of 36 states and by chance it fell to Tennessee as the last hope for the final vote and a legislature that might be amenable.
Hurdles abounded however. That is where Joseph made his mark. Considered an authority on the Tennessee constitution, Col. Acklen had published on May 11th in the Nashville Banner that should the Supreme Court rule that ratification had to follow the exact procedure found in the federal constitution then the door was open for the sitting general assembly of Tennessee to act for ratification. That act that had previously been considered impossible due to a never challenged article of the state's constitution. Joseph's analysis of that article declared it would not apply if the Supreme Court ruled as anticipated. So in June 1920 when the Supreme Court's decision came down as expected Joseph, then the general counsel for the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, urged members to agitate for a special session of the General Assembly. The Suffragists and their supporters quickly stepped forward, stepped up and made it happen.
As we near the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 24th, 1920, we should be mindful of the generations of women who could not vote, or hold office but influenced their neighbors, lobbied their elected officials and guided their children in the fight for women's right to vote.
Learn more about Tennessee's role in the passage of the 19th Amendment through the Tennesse State Library and Archives website.