Ask Hamilton – Abby Milton & The Women’s Suffrage Movement

(Above) Alice Paul, chairman of the National Woman’s Party, unfurls the ratification
banner following ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.

Dear Hamilton,

With the 2020 elections right around the corner, I’m looking to become more politically educated and involved. I’m especially excited to represent women’s right to vote as I hit the polls next year. Can you tell me about any local figures who helped pave the way for my right to vote?

Sincerely,
Poll Persuader

women's suffrage activist Alice Paul with Tennessee governor James Cox

Fellow women’s suffrage activist Alice Paul with supporters of the cause meet with Governor James Cox on the suffrage situation in Tennessee.


 

Dear Persuader,

Chattanooga Women's Suffrage Activist Abby Crawford Milton

Abby Crawford Milton

Of course! Abby Crawford Milton was one such figure who called Chattanooga home for a portion of her life and was instrumental in the pro-suffrage movement of the early 20th century. Born in 1881, Abby made her way from her hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, to Tennessee where she married George Fort Milton Sr. in 1904.

A short five years after the couple wed, George would purchase a majority interest in the local Chattanooga paper, The Chattanooga News. The publication was pro-suffrage, and George, alongside two other men, founded a men’s suffrage league in 1914.

While George was busy editing a successful publication, Abby attended law school at the Chattanooga College of Law. Many think it was her law degree that gave her credibility within the community and led her to become such an influential leader for the women’s suffrage movement.

Only one year after her husband had founded a men’s suffrage league, Abby decided to follow suit and become a member of the Chattanooga Equal Suffrage Association. She would spend much of the next decade traveling around the state and region lobbying for women’s rights and organizing suffrage groups.

Two years after joining the Chattanooga Equal Suffrage Association, Abby took charge and combined various women’s clubs throughout the Chattanooga area to create the Lookout Mountain Suffrage League in 1917. Her hard work and dedication didn’t stop there, however. In 1919, Abby was elected as the president of the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Association before moving on a year later to serve as the first president of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee.

In the summer of 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote by a two-thirds majority, and the amendment was sent to the states for ratification. Within the first week of the ratification cycle, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin each ratified the amendment, and Kansas, New York, and Ohio all followed suit within the coming weeks.

Abby Milton's husband George Fort Milton

George Fort Milton, husband to Abby Milton

 

Tennesse Governor Albert H. Roberts certifying the 19th Amendment for Tennessee

Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts certifies the state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920 as Memphis suffragist Charl Williams stands watching.

By March of 1920, a total of 35 states had approved the amendment – just one state shy of what was needed for ratification.

The passion and dedication of Abby and countless other women like her proved fruitful when, on August 18, 1920, the Tennessee state legislature
ratified the 19th Amendment, finally tipping the scales in favor of women’s right to vote.

In addition to serving as a key player throughout the women’s suffrage movement, Abby was instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and later, though unsuccessful, she ran for the Tennessee State Senate. She died in 1991 at the age of 110.

Hope this helps!

Hamilton Bush,
Resident History Hound

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