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More than nine decades ago, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
While reflecting on the anniversary of that date, Aug. 20, 1920, Fayetteville attorney Pat Fraley recalled the story behind an historic conference table, now located on the second floor library of her Main Avenue law firm.
It was this table in the Dixie Hotel in the summer of 1920 that Tennessee Governor A.H. Roberts and some legislative advisers gathered around, along with Tennessee leaders of Woman Suffrage and a representative of Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the International Woman Suffrage Association and honorary national president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Even before this event, the table was significant in that it was constructed of inlaid beech flooring salvaged from the Evans House, an early Shelbyville hotel on the north side of the square, which burned in 1904. Parallel light and dark strips of inlaid wood gave it a parquetry effect. The boxed legs were well set back beneath the top, which is braced in several places.
Recently, Fraley discovered that it was at one time fitted with light bulb sockets under the top.
Dr. Evans, owner of the Evans House, had been among Susan B. Anthony’s early supporters when she advocated a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution in 1869. So, it was not only coincidental, but appropriate, that this table was the one which was used for the conference in the Hotel Dixie.
Tennessee leaders of Woman Suffrage and a representative of Carrie Chapman Catt had intercepted Gov. Roberts and some legislative advisers he was accompanied by as they were returning to the capital from Lynchburg.
The women had persuaded the governor to let them talk with him in Shelbyville. Soon, the Susan B. Anthony amendment (19th Amendment) would be going before the legislature, and Governor Roberts remained neutral.
Late that summer evening seated around the table at Hotel Dixie, in an impromptu meeting of historical importance, the women persuaded the governor to support the legislation, and he initialed an agreement to endorse ratification.
On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, enfranchising all American women. It declared for the first time that women, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
As late as 1969, an excerpt from The Shelbyville Times-Gazette, The Sesquicentennial Historical Edition 1969, recorded that this table was located in the hotel lobby and was used to hold magazines and other reading material. But, the Dixie Hotel closed in the late 1970s.
Fraley purchased the table in Shelbyville in the late 1970s.
“I had to hire a crane to lift it and take apart a window on the second story to get it in here,” Fraley recalled.
She had the table refinished, but asked the refinishers to leave the old cigarette or cigar burns in the table top as a reminder that that one of those burns could have been made by an ash that was dropped by Gov. Roberts while seated around the table that historic evening with the Tennessee leaders of Woman Suffrage so many years ago.