In Bob Dylan’s 1964 song, “Chimes of Freedom,” he sings that bells are “tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts.”
Those bells now toll in celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage, the movement that empowered women to “bring their thoughts” to the ballot box.
Members of the MTSU community are joining institutions, businesses and individuals from around the state in ringing bells to celebrate Tennessee’s General Assembly ratification of the 19th Amendment.
While contemporary bell-ringings are being held on various dates to accommodate local schedules, the actual date of Tennessee’s approval of the 19th Amendment by the General Assembly was Aug. 18, 1920, making it the 36th and final state necessary for ratification. Gov. Albert H. Roberts certified the vote on Aug. 24, 1920.
Antoinette van Zelm, assistant director of the Center for Historic Preservation, and Andrea Loughry, vice chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission, rang a bell Aug. 11 at the First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro.
It was the same bell that Sarah Spence DeBow made certain chimed out in 1920 to celebrate Tennessee’s pivotal role in making it possible for women to vote.
DeBow, a Rutherford County resident, wrote a pamphlet titled “The History of the Case” in which she chronicled her efforts to convince Andrew Todd, speaker of the state Senate and the man for whom MTSU’s current Todd Building was named, to support the amendment.
According to Debow’s account, the National American Woman Suffrage Association designated noon Aug. 28 as the hour and day that bells would be rung throughout the United States to celebrate Tennessee’s historic act.
Although others had committed to ringing their bells, the bell at the Methodist church was the only one that was rung.
The church sexton trembled as he rang the bell because, as van Zelm stated, “about 4,000 people were gathered on the (Rutherford County) courthouse lawn to protest ratification of the 19th Amendment.”
Members of MTSU’s American Democracy Project and other members of the campus community stood outside the University Honors College ringing bells at noon Aug. 17 as the college’s carillon chimed in unison.
Images from MTSU’s centennial bell-ringing are to be preserved in the new Suffrage Room at the Nashville Public Library. The library provided universities in the Midstate with bells for their respective ceremonies.
“Silent No More: The Story of American Women’s Suffrage,” a documentary produced by ADP and the Center for Educational Media, will debut on True Blue TV Aug. 18. It can be viewed above or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/FWB59xuA9V8.
For more information on the fight for women’s suffrage and the centennial celebrations, go to http://leadingladiesrutherford.com/centennial.html.
— Gina Logue (email@example.com)