August 18, 2021

TODAY IS FEBB BURN DAY IN TENNESSEE

I can see her strong Ensminger features in this photo of Febb Ensminger Burn of Niota, Tennessee.  Her father Tom Ensminger and my maternal grandmother Evalee Ensminger Cate’s father Charles were brothers. To me it always seemed these Ensminger women had kind faces aswell as resolute jaws that seemed to say: don’t give me any trouble!

Febb married Jim Burn of Niota and they had a more privileged lifestyle that my grandparents. And there’s a specific reason why August 18 was proclaimed Febb Burn Day in Tennessee in 2018.  The official notice reads: “ August 18 of each year shall be observed as “Febb Burn Day” to be proclaimed as such by the governor, to honor Febb Burn’s role in the enfranchisement of women.”

IT’s a memorable story—how her letter written in August, 1920, to her son Harry T. who was serving his first term in the Tennessee House of Representatives, helped turn the tide for woman’s suffrage.  After over 70 years of demonstrations, marches, appeals, and legal challenges, the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the vote was approved in Congress.  To become law, it must be ratified by 36 states.  Tennessee was the only hope to become the 35th state to ratify—and its legislature was very divided.  

By this time, Febb was a widow and managing the family farm and business.  She had a good education and had taught school, but could not vote because she was a woman.  She wrote a long, newsy letter to her son in Nashville and urged him to support ratification.  As a young representative, he was under tremendous pressure and had cast a “nay” vote at the August 18 morning session.  After reading his mother’s letter, he went back to the Capitol and cast the tie-breaking “aye” vote. The amendment couldn’t be stopped now—and became law on August 26.

On the first Febb Burn Day in 2018, I was thrilled to go to the Howard Office Building on Second Avenue for early voting in a primary election.  As a nod to my letter-writing relative Febb, I asked another voter to snap my photo. I hope Governor Bill Lee didn’t forget to declare this special observance day today. The 101st anniversary of this important event in our history is great!  In just a few more years, my granddaughter Charlotte will be able to vote.  She knows and appreciates the story of Febb and Harry T. Burn well!

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