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19 Facts About the 19th Amendment

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On August 18, 1920, American women finally secured the right to vote. Calling the victory hard-won would be an understatement: Denounced by many, the 19th amendment had an ugly, uphill, decades-long road to ratification. 

1. IN 1797, NEW JERSEY TEMPORARILY GRANTED VOTING RIGHTS TO UNWED WOMEN. 

New Jersey's original state constitution, adopted in 1776, declared that “all inhabitants” who were “worth fifty pounds” could vote. Because some found this wording rather vague, clearer legislation was drafted, and in 1797, the State Assembly explicitly granted certain female New Jerseyans suffrage.

For the next 10 years, single women were permitted to cast ballots. Married ladies, on the other hand, weren’t given this privilege because their husbands legally controlled every piece of property they owned—so they failed the “fifty pounds” requirement. In 1807, the State Assembly passed a new law, one that forbade anyone but “free, white male citizens” who were at least 21 (and paid taxes) from voting. 

2. THE WYOMING TERRITORY LED A NATIONWIDE CHARGE FOR SUFFRAGE.

Today, it’s called “the equality state,” and in 1869, Wyomingites really earned that nickname. During this pivotal year, a game-changing bill sponsored by Councilman William Bright was approved by the Territorial Legislature. “[Every] woman, of the age of twenty-one years," the document read, "residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.”

Though suffragists cheered this news, some feared that the celebration would be short-lived. Just two years after women were given the right to vote, Wyoming was one vote short of repealing the act.  But eventually, women’s right to vote became so entrenched in Wyoming that when Wyoming applied for statehood, Congress threatened to deny it unless Bright’s bill was revoked—but the local legislature wouldn't back down: “We will remain out of the union [for] 100 years rather than come in without the women.” Congress caved, and Wyoming—with all her female voters—became America’s 44th state in 1890.

3. THE 19TH AMENDMENT WAS FIRST PROPOSED—AND DEFEATED—IN 1878.

“The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” So read an amendment that California Senator Arlen A. Sargent put forth for discussion on January 10, 1878, at the urging of his friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Hearings were held by the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, but they weren’t encouraging—while advocates voiced their support, several committee members busied themselves by reading newspapers or staring off into space. The bill was rejected, though it would be re-introduced every year for the next 41 years.

4. BEFORE 1920, VOTING RIGHTS DIFFERED GREATLY ACROSS STATE LINES.

In January 1919, suffrage laws varied considerably: 15 states allowed women to vote in all elections, while 21 others barred them from certain contests (for instance, Texas ladies could only cast ballots during primaries). The remaining 12 prohibited female voting altogether. 

5. TEDDY ROOSEVELT'S "BULL MOOSE" PARTY CAMPAIGNED ON WOMEN'S ENFRANCHISEMENT. 

During his presidency, T.R. was quite mum on the subject. “Personally,” Roosevelt wrote in 1908, “I believe in women’s suffrage, but … I do not regard it as a very important matter.”

But he made voting equity a central issue while seeking a third term. When William Howard Taft’s 1912 re-nomination dashed Roosevelt’s hopes of running again as a Republican, he launched his own Progressive Party, which incorporated suffrage into its official platform

One day into the campaign, T.R. made history. At the party’s convention, social reformer Jane Addams became the first woman to ever second the nomination of a major presidential candidate. “It was a spectacular proceeding,” opined Woodrow Wilson backer Charles W. Elliot, “but in exceedingly bad taste, because a woman has no place at a political convention.”

6. TAFT HAD MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT IT.  

As “Big Bill” told The Saturday Evening Post in 1915, he favored a gradual approach to female voting rights. Taft believed that “the immediate enfranchisement of women would increase … the hysterical element of the electorate.” However, if such a reform could be “delayed until a great majority” desired it, the change would—in his mind—“be a correct and useful extension of the democratic principle. The benefit will come slowly and imperceptibly.”

7. NOT ALL ANTI-SUFFRAGISTS WERE MEN.

Alice Hay Wadsworth was among the most prominent women to denounce what became the 19th Amendment. The wife of Senator James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., she was once president of the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage. A now-infamous pamphlet published by this group claimed that “90 percent of women either do not want it or do not care,” and that new voting rights would mean “competition with men instead of cooperation.” The group was founded by Josephine Dodge, daughter of Grant’s Postmaster General, in her apartment in 1911. 

8. SUFFRAGE ADVOCATES THREW THE VERY FIRST WHITE HOUSE PICKET PROTEST.

Activist Alice Paul had little trouble getting under Woodrow Wilson’s skin. She broke new, nonviolent ground by establishing a group called the Silent Sentinels, which began protesting outside the White House on January 10, 1917. Over the next 2.5 years, they spent six days a week holding up pro-enfranchisement signs with such captions as “How long must women wait for liberty?” and “Mr. President, what will you do for woman suffrage?” 

9. HUNGER STRIKES PROMPTED WILSON TO TAKE ACTION.

Eventually, policemen began arresting Silent Sentinels—including Paul herself—for “obstructing traffic.” While incarcerated, she organized a hunger strike, which drove guards to begin force-feeding captive suffragettes. And it got worse: Guards denied the protestors water; one of the protestors was manacled to the bars and nearly placed in a straitjacket and gagged for talking to her fellow inmates; and three emerged from the ordeal so weak that doctors feared for their lives. Wilson’s stance on enfranchisement shifted from tepid support to total advocacy. 

10. WILSON TRIED TO PASS NATIONAL SUFFRAGE IN 1918, BUT FELL TWO SENATE VOTES SHORT.

With World War I still raging on, Wilson officially endorsed what later became the 19th amendment. One day after he released a statement to this effect, the House passed the measure. Riding high on that victory, the commander-in-chief addressed the Senate in person, saying, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” Despite these passionate words, the amendment didn’t break through, falling short just two votes. A few months later, Congress tried passing it again—and missed the mark by exactly one senatorial vote. 

11. ONE SUFFRAGETTE DIED FOR THE CAUSE.

On June 4, 1919, the Senate finally passed the amendment. Now, its life depended upon the states, three-fourths of which were needed for ratification.   

Enter Aloysius Larch-Miller, the Oklahoma State Suffrage Ratification Committee’s enthusiastic young secretary. Stricken with influenza during the winter of 1920, she was ordered by her doctor to remain in bed. However, when a prominent anti-suffragist arrived at her local Democratic convention, she made a beeline for the event. After eloquently defending gender equality, Larch-Miller returned home. Two days later, she passed away. Her martyrdom became a rallying cry and, just a few weeks later, Oklahoma voted yes on the 19th.   

12. ONE STATE REPRESENTATIVE SINGLE-HANDEDLY GUARANTEED THE AMENDMENT'S SUCCESS—AT HIS MOTHER'S REQUEST.

When Tennessee passed the bill on August 18 of that year, it became the 36th state to ratify, providing the necessary three-fourths majority. A 24-year-old politician named Harry Burn—who had previously opposed suffrage—tipped the scales in Nashville’s House of Representatives. What changed his mind? On the day of the vote, he received a letter from his widowed mom, Febb Burn, who urged him to support the amendment. He voted yes, and led Tennessee to ratify by a margin of 49 to 47. Since the state senate had already passed it, the measure won out. “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” Burn noted, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” 

13. EIGHT DAYS AFTER THE 19TH AMENDMENT WAS RATIFIED, 10 MILLION WOMEN JOINED THE ELECTORATE.

On August 26, the 19th amendment officially took effect. As legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar points out, the sheer volume of brand new voters created by this legal action made it “the single biggest democratizing event in American history.” 

14. MULTIPLE CITIZENS HAVE BEEN CITED AS THE FIRST TO VOTE UNDER THE NEW AMENDMENT. 

South St. Paul, Minnesota scheduled a special bond election at 5:30 a.m. on August 27 in which 87 women voted (but women could vote in these elections anyway; their votes just didn’t count—they were recorded for public interest). Nevertheless, it’s often reported that Mrs. Marie Ruoff Byrum of Hannibal, Missouri cast the first female ballot in post-amendment history in a local alderman race four days later. 

15. RUMORS CIRCULATED THAT A WOMAN MIGHT APPEAR ON THE DEMOCRATIC TICKET IN 1920. 

Prominent Republican May Jester Allen allegedly heard that the Dems were weighing a 35-year-old DNC committeewoman named Anna Dickie Olesen for their vice-presidential nomination. Instead, this honor went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

16. FDR BECAME THE FIRST PRESIDENT WHOSE MOTHER WAS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE FOR HIM. 

Harding’s, Coolidge’s, and Hoover’s had already died by the time they ran for the Oval Office. Sara Roosevelt, on the other hand, lived to see her boy win his unprecedented third term.  

17. IN 1922, SOME SAID THE AMENDMENT WAS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Because Maryland’s constitution reserved voting for men, Judge Oscar Leser and other anti-suffragists charged that the federal government had unlawfully infringed upon their state’s rights. In Leser v. Garnett, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected this and similar arguments against the 19th amendment, thus ensuring its long-term survival. Apparently Chief Justice William Howard Taft decided that the “great majority” were finally for it.

18. MISSISSIPPI DIDN'T RATIFY IT UNTIL MARCH 22, 1984. 

Other holdouts include Louisiana and North Carolina, which waited until June 11, 1970 and May 6, 1971, respectively. Still, Mississippi was, by a noticeable margin, the very last state to go through with ratification.

19. A STATUE CELEBRATING TENNESSEE'S ROLE IN THE AMENDMENT'S PASSAGE WILL BE ERECTED THIS OCTOBER. 

Sculpted by Nashville native Alan Lequire, the monument will depict five “indomitable” suffragettes: Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga, Sue Shelton White of Jackson, Frankie Pierce and Anne Dudley of Nashville, and League of Women Voters founder Carrie Chapman Catt. On October 27, it will be unveiled on the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Bridge, near the state capital’s War Memorial building.

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Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono Mailed Acorns to World Leaders
 Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a big year in 1969. Following a quick wedding ceremony in Gibraltar, they hopped over to Amsterdam and used their honeymoon suite at the Hilton as a stage for their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War. A week later they were in Vienna wearing bags over their bodies and declaring the formation of a comical new philosophy called “bagism." Their goal, they said, was to promote "total communication" by getting people to focus on their message instead of their skin color, ethnicity, clothes, or in Lennon's case, hair length.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with a sign reading "bagism"
Bob Aylott, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

These attention-grabbing antics were among their most famous peace efforts, but that same year they undertook a very different project. This time, away from the cameras, Lennon and Ono mailed acorns to some of the world's most important leaders and asked that they be planted in support of world peace.

The idea had been a year in the making. While filming a part for a movie called A Love Story on June 15, 1968, Lennon and Ono planted two acorns at England’s Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed during WWII and was later rebuilt as a symbol of peace. They were “planted in east and westerly positions,” symbolizing the union of Lennon and Ono and their respective cultures.

Then, in 1969, they decided to scale up their "peace acorn" project. Along with two acorns placed in a small, round case, they sent world leaders a letter that read: “Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures—which are acorns—in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace. Yours with love, John and Yoko Ono Lennon.”

Like the proverb “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” the couple understood the power of small gestures and wanted to start a conversation that would get world leaders thinking about the possibility of peace—or in Lennon's words, to encourage them to "give peace a chance."

John and Yoko hold up a protest sign that says "War is over if you want it."
Frank Barratt, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They did provoke some thought, at least. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon explained, “We got reaction to sending acorns—different heads of state actually planted their acorns, lots of them wrote to us answering about the acorns. We sent acorns to practically everybody in the world.”

The two acorns were “submitted to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] in due course,” according to a letter that the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace sent to the Lennons. A response from Malaysia confirmed that the acorns were to be planted in Kuala Lumpur’s Palace Gardens, and another letter from South Africa indicated that they would be planted on then-president Jim Fouché’s farm.

Golda Meir, then-prime minister of Israel, reportedly said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who they are but if it’s for peace, we’re for it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. An official response sent by Meir’s assistant director in 1970 read, “Mrs. Meir very much appreciated the gesture, the underlying symbolism of which she would indeed like to see take root within a realistic framework.”

One particularly polite response came from Cambodia's head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, who worried he had erred in addressing Lennon and Ono as Mr. and Mrs. (he hadn't). He wrote, “Dear Sir and Madam, I may have wrongly assumed the friendly donators of acorns are husband and wife, and would like to submit ‘preventive’ apologies, together with my sincerest thanks for their gift.”

Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event
Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event in 1960
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ono saved all of these letters, and photocopies can be viewed on her website. For his part, Lennon memorialized the event in The Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko." In case you've ever wondered what the line "50 acorns tied in a sack" means, the verse in question references the events following their honeymoon and return to London:

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

To mark the 40th anniversary of the peace acorn offering in 2009, Ono recreated the act and sent acorns to 123 world leaders, including Barack and Michelle Obama. Next year, for the 50th anniversary, it remains to be seen if the famous peace acorns will again make their way around the world. If you happen to be a president or the Queen, you might want to save a spot in your garden, just in case.

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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