For Phoebe (“Miss Febb”) Burns
Perhaps it was the translucent effect of the sun on the petals of its namesake’s drooping head that caused her to pause. Perhaps she, too, felt her shoulders lift in the sun’s light, shedding, for that moment, memories of her husband’s futile battle with typhoid four years earlier, the long list of responsibilities, like milking the cows, churning butter, mending, cleaning, cooking, ensuring the success of the farm while raising their four children. Alone.
Taxed without representation. Governed without say.
Perhaps on that day in August of 1920, it was the radiant light across the shadows of a cut flower that prompted her to stop and write a note to her eldest son that would change the course of the nation. Had it been cloudy, a day free of the normal heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer, would she have taken the time to pen a seven-page letter? And would he, a junior statesman from the east side of the state, bombarded by lobbyists on both sides, troubled by the intensity of the arguments, the endless marches down Broadway, the pressure from constituents, still unsure of the right thing to do, would he, that morning of August 18, 1920, after reflecting on his mother’s words, have tossed his red rose to the floor and replaced it with yellow, the color of the suffragists, the color of the sunflower in the vase on his mother’s kitchen table?
For more information, read my August 2019 blog reflection, "Welcome Her with Yellow Roses," on the passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago.
In gratitude to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and the many women who persevered for over seven decades to pass legislation that gave women the right to vote, and to Phoebe (“Miss Febb”) Burns and all mothers who take the time to acknowledge and speak their truth.
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