About the Holiday
This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration is “Valiant Women of the Vote” and commemorates not only the women who fought for voting equality in the past but also those who, during the 20th century and through today, fight against other forms of voter suppression. Today’s book honors one of those women. For more information and vast resources especially under Suffrage Centennial, visit the National Women’s History Alliance website.
The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History
Written by Elisa Boxer | Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
The year was 1920 and women were demanding the right to vote, just as they had been for the last seventy-five years. But all of their meetings, shouting, and signs were silenced. Men called the women “troublemakers” and “uncivilized.” Some men said it would “cause chaos” if women could vote, and others said “‘the only vote a woman needs is the vote to choose her husband.” There were even other women who thought women shouldn’t vote.
But then there was Febb Burn from East Tennessee who had gone to college, become a teacher, and loved to keep learning. She was especially interested in laws and how they were made, and every year as she watched her farmhands head off to vote on election day, she wanted to be able to go too. Finally, she grew so tired of being “shut out of the process” that she wrote a letter to her son.
Who was her son? His name was Harry Burn, and he was the “youngest lawmaker in Tennessee.” As he read his mother’s letter, he watched out his window as people from across the country gathered to decide the fate of women’s suffrage. One round of voting had already taken place, and it had resulted in a tie. Thirty-five states had voted yes on the issue, but thirty-six were needed to make it a law. Harry Burn for Tennessee had been one of the “no” votes in the first round. Now in the second round, Harry Burn would be the deciding vote. A “no” would deny women the vote, while a “yes” would change elections forever.
“He knew that most of the people who had elected him hated the idea of women voting.” Many of them were even in the audience and were counting on him. He was, after all, wearing a red rose—”the symbol of keeping women in the home, and out of the voting booth”—in his pocket. When it came time for Harry to vote, all eyes were on him as he said “‘Yes.’” The officials thought he’d “made a mistake” or “gotten confused,” but he hadn’t. The suffragettes cheered and hugged.
Everyone wanted to know why Harry Burn had changed his mind. In answer, he pulled from his pocket the letter his mother had written urging him to vote for suffrage. Harry constituents were shocked and angry. They vowed to vote against him in the next election. The headlines in the newspapers said that Harry had ruined his career. But Harry already knew that. He knew that his vote would mean “giving up his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.”
When interviewed for newspaper articles, Harry said that he had followed his conscience that all people should have the right to vote. At last the election was held, and Harry awaited his fate as all the votes were counted. Who would be the next Tennessee Representative? Harry Burn! “And no one was prouder than the woman who, without speaking a word, gave all women a vote.”
In an Author’s Note, Elisa Boxer talks more about the women’s suffrage movement, the courage to stand up for what you believe in, and the power of using the vote to voice your opinion. A timeline of significant events in the women’s suffrage movement is also included.
For anyone wondering about the power of one vote, Elisa Boxer puts all doubts to rest with her engaging recounting of this little-known true story. While Harry Burn’s vote took place 100 years ago, the courage he showed in standing up for his own conscience and in opposition to what was expected of him reverberates today. Boxer opens the story with a clear and meaningful definition of how a vote equals one’s voice, instilling in children who are learning to speak up for themselves in classrooms, on social media, and elsewhere the importance of voting when they come of age.
Her inclusion of quotes revealing the reasons behind opposition to women’s suffrage will be eye-opening. Her well-paced building of suspense going into the second vote and the aftermath will have kids on the edge of their seat and offers many opportunities to discuss the mechanisms of politics, expectations, and courage. Through her straightforward yet multilayered storytelling, Boxer presents two heroes for children to look up to: Harry, who put the good of the country and women ahead of his own career and Febb, who used her voice to make lasting change.
Vivien Mildenberger’s lovely, textured illustrations take readers back to the pivotal year of 1920, when vocal suffragettes faced their equally vocal opposition and Febb Burn, sitting on her front porch decided to write her life-changing letter. Images of politicians sporting yellow and red roses reveal the long tradition of color as an identifying symbol. An especially powerful spread comes after Harry’s vote as he walks among his angry constituents, all of whom shun him behind newspapers full of articles about the historic vote. The inclusion of the actual Febb Burn’s letter to Harry and a photograph of Febb give readers see and hear from this influential woman.
A stirring true story about the power of one person to make a difference, The Voice that Won the Vote is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 7 – 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110496
You can download a The Voice that Won the Vote Teaching Guide from Sleeping Bear Press here.
Discover more about Elisa Boxer, her book, journalism, and other work on her website.
To learn more about Vivien Mildenberger, her books, and her art on her website.
Women’s History Month Activity
Get Out and Vote! Maze
Help the girl find her way through the maze to the ballot box so she can cast her vote in this printable maze.
You can find The Voice the Won the Vote at these booksellers
Picture Book Review