This organization formed prior to the ratification of the Suffrage Amendment when thirty-five of the required thirty-six states had ratified the amendment. Tennessee suffragists attended the last national suffrage convention in February 1920 and returned home to Tennessee to organize Tennessee’s league as the successor to the state suffrage association. Suffragists saw the league as a broad-based educational and political organization made up of women who were active in both political parties. The state founders envisioned the league as a coalition of women’s groups that would come to the league for education about government issues and work with the league on specific legislative agendas.
The Tennessee suffragists convened the first meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters on May 18, 1920, at the State Capitol in Nashville. Throughout the two-day meeting, representatives from each political party encouraged the league to become active in party politics once women gained the vote. Anne Dallas Dudley called for Tennessee to become the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. When the meeting adjourned, League members began to pressure Governor A. H. Roberts to call a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to ratify the amendment; the amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.
After the passage of the amendment, the newly elected officers of the league found it difficult to maintain the momentum that had accompanied the suffrage association. The league had more success in gaining support for their legislative program than in electing members to public office. Throughout the 1920s the league held citizenship schools and pushed for specific legislation to benefit women and children. Although the league earned statewide respect, it could not maintain sufficient membership to pay its national dues. In 1933 the national League of Women Voters withdrew the Tennessee league’s affiliation.
The Tennessee league reorganized just three years later, when a number of women with league experience in other states moved to Tennessee as a result of the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority. East Tennessee women created a new league in 1936, but the organization gained little supported in Middle and West Tennessee. At the first convention of the reorganized league in 1936, the members adopted as their major program item the abolition of the poll tax as a voting prerequisite. The league pressed for a state constitutional convention, which was not held until 1953.
Realizing that they were not represented fairly in the Tennessee General Assembly, league members in Johnson City and Knoxville launched a movement in 1955 that eventually resulted in the favorable Baker v. Carr (1962) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Tennessee League of Women Voters remains active on a number of legislative issues statewide.