TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Letters of the Law on Dec 1, 2015

Journal Issue Date: Dec 2015

Journal Name: December 2015 - Vol. 51, No. 12

While On Court, Justice Reid Accomplished More Than Dancing

Suzanne: I note with interest in your feature story in the Journal (“Full Court Press,” October 2015 Tenn. Bar Journal) that notwithstanding several accomplishments of the Court while I was Chief — the Tennessee Plan, discretionary appeals, The Futures Commission et. al. — I am remembered by the Association for performance on the dance floor. Humbling but perhaps refreshing. Best regards.

— Lyle Reid, Covington Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, 1990-98, Chief Justice 1990-94

Author Sticks to Her Story

Note: This letter is in response to a letter from Lewis Laska, “Tennessee Lawyers Did Not Object to Women Voting,” which was published in the October 2015 issue.

Well, my heart is warmed to know that at least one person has read my article (“Votes for Women: Tennessee Lawyers vs. the Suffragists,” August 2015 Tenn. Bar Journal ), even if it was somewhat misunderstood. I have never taken the position that Tennessee lawyers “per se” opposed women’s suffrage — only that Tennessee lawyers and judges led the effort in 1917 to silence the suffragists’ criticism of the outrageous treatment women were receiving as punishment for seeking the vote. While a non-lawyer prevailed in Knoxville so they were able to speak, some lawyers and judges (both for and against women’s suffrage) ultimately also supported the right of the women to speak.

There were some wise lawyers who spoke in favor of women’s rights from time to time prior to that, but it was not until 1918, after the events addressed in the article, that the Tennessee Bar Association formally, as a body (albeit not unanimously), passed the resolution favoring Woman Suffrage. By the way, it was not until 1953 that women were considered “competent” to serve on juries in Tennessee.

You are partly correct that liquor interest generally opposed woman suffrage because of the link between suffrage and temperance leaders. But that was only one source of the opposition and not a strong one by 1917 in Tennessee because Tennessee had virtually adopted prohibition as early as 1909.

Manufacturers were terrified that women voters might put an end to child labor or even demand better wages for themselves. Bigots feared that giving women the vote would double the vote of the black citizens. Railroads feared their power and control might be weakened if women “cleaned up” politics. “White slavers” (what we would now call human traffickers) were afraid women would put them out of business. Military interest feared women would vote against wars. The forces at work against women’s right to vote were varied and very strong, not simply the liquor interest.

As to Eleanor Coonrod, your effort to “set the record straight” misses the mark a bit. She let her Tennessee Bar Association membership expire after 1914. In her absence, at the 1915 annual TBA meeting, a question was raised about whether she had collected, but not remitted $40-$50 worth of dues. The TBA took no action other than to refer the issue back to the Chattanooga Bar. I checked the next five years of the TBA proceedings and there was no reference to “kicking her out.” It seems she chose to put her time and resources into the suffrage campaign instead of TBA where there were only two women members in 1915.

One final note, Lizzie Crozier French of Knoxville is probably the first woman ever to address the Tennessee Bar Association. She did so in 1912, four years before the Ms. Anderson you reference. Ms. French called for suffrage as well as reform of all the laws affecting women.

At least we seem to agree that the opposition to suffrage was typically grounded in self-interest without regard to higher principles of fairness and justice. I look forward to your future articles.

— Wanda G. Sobieski, Knoxville