“Don’t forget to be a good boy.”
A predictable “momism” we utter without thinking every time we drop our kids off for a playdate or school or leave them with a sitter. “Being good” meaning remember to say please and thank you, share the toys, and for goodness sake don’t pick your nose.
One mom spoke these words to her son, and it changed the course of history. For women.
In the summer of 1920, Phoebe Burn’s son Harry was a member of the Tennessee state legislature, the youngest in fact at 24. The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was nearing the end of the ratification process. 35 states had voted yes, 12 states voting no, bringing it one vote short of the required 36.
It all came down to Tennessee…and Harry.
Harry was the deciding vote. He had made up his mind to vote no until he received a letter from his dear old mom urging him to “don’t forget to be a good boy” and vote yes for the amendment.
Clutching his mom’s letter, Harry cast the deciding vote to pass the amendment. And then jumped out a 3rd story window to escape an angry mob. Don’t worry—he was okay.
Moms give the best advice.
August marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the end of a 72 year battle for women’s equality.
Yes, 72 years of women lobbying, marching, picketing, and protesting for the right to vote. 3 generations of women leaders. The first generation didn’t live to see the end, and the last generation wasn’t born when the fight began.
While many of the public centennial celebrations have been canceled due to current circumstances, there are plenty of fun activities you can do at home with your kids to celebrate and learn more about the suffrage movement.
Learn about Susan B. Anthony and make a Flat Susan B.
Ask someone to name a suffragist, chances are they’ll say Susan B. Anthony. Ask them to name another, you’ll probably hear crickets. No worries if you can’t name someone else. By the end of these activities, you and your kids will know about some of the other great women leaders.
Susan B. Anthony was an incredibly important figure in the suffrage movement and is a good one to start with.
The PBS Kids show Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum has a great episode featuring Susan B. Anthony. Here’s the link.
You can also find a viewing guide and activities for kids on the PBS Kids’ website.
A fun follow-up activity to do after the kids have learned all about Susan B. Anthony is to make a “Flat Susan.” You can find the template here. Have the kids decorate their own “Flat Susan” and use it as a mascot for all of your suffrage learning activities.
Explore Suffrage Movement Sites with the National Park Service
While this is probably not the summer to travel far and wide to the suffrage movement sites, the National Park Services is bringing those sites (and their stories and activities) to kids virtually.
Check out the National Park Service’s website (here’s the link) for a variety of suffrage-related activities and stories, including some pretty cool photos and videos of everyday women (and their kids) marching, picketing, and protesting for votes for women.
Remember what I said about learning about great women leaders other than Susan B. Anthony? Here’s your chance.
Here are some of my family’s favorite children’s books about women’s suffrage:
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport. This book is a great overview of the significant events of the women’s suffrage movement, including leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abigail Adams, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Bloomer.
Miss Paul and the President, by Dean Robbins. With beautiful illustrations, this book tells the story of how Alice Paul fought to secure President Woodrow Wilson’s support for women’s suffrage through parade protests and picketing.
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, A Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, by Mara Rockliff. A beautiful little picture book tells the story of suffragists Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, who in 1916 toured over 10,000 miles of bumpy, muddy terrain in a little yellow car to spread the message about equal voting rights.
The Voice That Won The Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History, by Elisa Boxer. Learn more about the story of Phoebe Burns and her son Harry.
Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote, by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. An inspiring picture book to introduce young readers to the bold and brave women of the suffrage movement, including well-known names like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth and lesser known women such as Jovita Idár and Mary Church Terrell.
If you would like some else to do the reading, the American Library Association has put together a wonderful digital storytelling series, Herstory Time. Here’s the link.
For more suffrage activities, be sure to check out the following resources:
- Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (www.womensvote100.org)
- 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative (www.2020centennial.org)
- National Archives (www.archives.gov/education/lessons/woman-suffrage)