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Eighty-Five Years at the Polls
August 17, 2005

My grandmother was a great American. She loved her country, loved her flag, and sent two beloved sons to fight in the Second World War. 

I did whatever she told me.  And the day I turned 21, I went right out and made sure that I was registered to vote. (That was the legal voting age in those long-ago days.) 

Why was it so important to my grandmother?  Because when she had that eventful birthday, she didn’t go and register to vote.  She couldn’t.  In 1911, the year my grandmother turned 21, few women citizens of the United States could—only those in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.

But that changed.  Tomorrow marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of that change.  For over 50 years, many Americans, both men and women, had campaigned vigorously for women’s suffrage—the right to vote.  In May, 1919 the men in the United States Senate agreed and sent the text of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution to the states for ratification.

The states, naturally, had the choice not to ratify—Georgia jumped right on that bandwagon.  It was the first state in the nation to reject the amendment.  They didn’t waste time, doing it in July, 1919.

But other states voted for the amendment.  In the summer of 1920, the contest narrowed down to Tennessee. It would take 36 states to ratify, and 35 had.  The contest was close.  Proponents of the amendments wore yellow roses; opponents red.  Supporters and opponents flooded into Nashville from all over the country.  Carrie Chapman Catt led the forces in favor of the amendment.   And she was worried it wasn’t looking good.

On August 18 it came down to the vote. On the first two ballots—a tie.  Then on the third vote, the legislature’s youngest member, twenty-four-year-old, red-rose wearing Harry Burn rose to cast his vote.

“Aye!"  Wild celebration.  American women had won the right to vote. 

Tennessee ratified and within days the nineteenth amendment became the law of the land.

            “Why?” Everyone asked Harry the same question once the excitement died down.  He explained that as he cast his final vote he had in his coat pocket a letter he’d just received  from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, of Niota.

“Dear Son: Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don't keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the 'rat' in ratification. Signed, Your Mother."

            Hurrah for Febb Burn and her son Harry!

            And in Georgia?  Women weren’t able to vote in the November elections because of a state requirement of six month’s registration.  But in 1922, Georgia women joined the ranks of American voters.

            However, the legislature wasn’t quite so quick on the uptake on ratification.  The Georgia Legislature ratified the amendment on February 20, 1970.  But we weren’t the last.  Louisiana and North Carolina followed.  On March 22, 1984, Mississippi became the final state to ratify.

            Now, what to make on August 18 to honor Febb and Harry Burns?  One recipe that has a long history in American elections is the traditional “Election Day Cake,” served throughout New England, particularly in Hartford, Connecticut. 

            The first recipe I found was a bit staggering.  

            Thirty quarts of flour,  three dozen eggs, a quart of yeast, a pint of wine and a quart of brandy are among the ingredients listed by Amelia Simmons in her 1796 cookbook, American Cookery.  I don’t think so.

            Opponents to women’s suffrage predicted dire consequences.  Women would start running around, running for office, getting jobs.  They might quit cooking.   With a recipe like Amelia’s—who would wonder?

            I did find a more modern and streamlined version, but it’s still a lot of trouble.

New England Election Day Cake

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup milk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup butter

1 egg

1 cup raisins

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, and nutmeg. In a saucepan, heat milk, granulated and brown sugars, and butter just till warm (115-120 degrees), stirring constantly. Add to dry mixture in bowl. Add egg; beat at low speed of electric mixer for 1/2 minute, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Stir in remaining flour and raisins by hand. Cover, let rise in warm place till doubled (about1 1/2 hour). Stir dough down. Spoon into greased 9x5x3 inch baking loaf pan. Let rise till doubled (about 1 hour). Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Makes one loaf.

            Sounds good, but I like getting out of the kitchen and running around.  I finally I found a recipe worthy of Febb and Harry.   I modified it a little and served it to a panel of registered voters for taste-testing.

            A landslide victory.  A great way to celebrate 75 years at the polls for American women.

Febb Burn Voters’ Cake

(to be served every August 18)

 3/4 cup water

1 (13-3/4oz.) pkg. hot roll mix

3 eggs

1 package spice cake mix

1 cup coarsely chopped almonds

1 cup golden raisins

2 1/3 cups water

1/3 cup cooking oil

In large bowl, combine  3/4 cup warm (not hot) water and yeast from hot roll mix. Stir until yeast is dissolved. Add eggs and hot roll mix. Blend. Add remaining water, spice cake mix, raisins and almonds. Grease and flour a ten-inch tube cake pan. Pour batter into pan and let rise for 1 hour in warm place. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until it tests done. Cool in pan 10-15 minutes; turn out on wire rack to complete cooling.

            Prepare a glaze using one cup sifted confectioner’s sugar and two tablespoons lemon juice.  Pour over the cooled cake and garnish with whole almonds.

            I used the amount of water and cooking oil called for on the Duncan Hines Spice Cake Mix.  Quantities may vary depending on the brand of cake mix you select.


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