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Swelling the ranks

The newly enfranchised

She was just 21 that summer day, 98 years ago today.

Born 21 August 1898 in Colorado County, Texas,1 Opal E. (Robertson) Cottrell was just shy of her 22nd birthday — just old enough to benefit from what happened some 600 or so miles to the east. At that point in her young life, she hadn’t been that far east yet — she hadn’t even been out of Texas and Oklahoma.

But she benefited all the same from the events in the Tennessee capital city of Nashville, 98 years ago today.

When one man cast one vote and changed life for millions of American women.

And — at that time in 1920 — the lives of so many women in The Legal Genealogist‘s own family.

Including Opal E. (Robertson) Cottrell, my grandmother, who — because of one vote on the 18th of August, 1920 — gained what her brothers and uncles and male cousins all took for granted. She, and all the other women in my family, gained the right to vote.2

Yesterday’s blog tells the story of Harry T. Burn of McMinn County, Tennessee, the youngest member of the Tennessee State House of Representatives, who changed his vote on suffrage at the urging of his mother, breaking a tie in the lower house and making Tennessee the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution — the amendment that gave women the vote.3

Today, my genealogy database gives me the names and vital statistics of at least 60 women to whom I am related by blood who were alive at that moment and who were enfranchised by that vote.

Limestone Ala. 1922 voters

The oldest was a first cousin four times removed. Susannah C. (Young) Blalock was born in Yancey County, North Carolina, on the ninth of April 1836, the daughter of Reuben and Sophia (Baker) Young.4 Her mother was the youngest sister of my third great grandfather Martin Baker.5 Susannah died in Mitchell County, North Carolina, on the 11th of November 1929 at the age of 93,6 and was buried at the Bear Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in Ledger.7

My grandmother, Opal, was the youngest, born in 1898 and just old enough to vote. (I didn’t find anyone born in 1899 in the crowd.) Her mother, my great grandmother Eula (Baird Livingston) Robertson, born in 1869 in Alabama,8 got the right to vote on the same day as her daughter did.

Four of my grandfather’s sisters were alive in 1920, and all but one would have been enfranchised by this vote: Nettie (Cottrell) Holley, born 1879;9 Theo (Cottrell) Hodges Dean, born 1885;10 and Addie Lee (Cottrell) Harris, born 1881.11 The one who didn’t get the right to vote had married a non-citizen in 1912. Maud (Cottrell) Gottlieb couldn’t vote until she got her citizenship back by through naturalization in 1939.12

Two of my grandfather’s aunts — Mary (Cottrell) Green, born 1856,13 and Margaret “Arby” (Cottrell) Hollis McCann, born 186314 — were living and eligible to vote when the 19th amendment passed, as well as a whole ration of my grandmother’s aunts:

On her father’s side, Martha Wilmoth (Robertson) Crenshaw, born 1854;15 Mary Isabella (Robertson) Hendrix, born 1863;16 Fannie Boone (Robertson) Harrison, born 1865;17 and Lillie (Robertson) Wilson, born 1868.18

On her mother’s side, Lula (Livingston) Lancaster, born 1877;19 Margaret Etta (Livingston) Roberts, born 1880;20 and Susie (Livingston) Kidwell, born 1889.21

Add to those the cousins — the women born with the surnames Baker, Crenshaw, Davenport, Robertson, Shew, Wiseman and more — and just my one family surely could have swelled the voter rolls.

Which — sigh — I now must see if I can collect.

What fun it would be to hold in my hand the 1920 or 1921 or 1922 voter registration of one of these women…


Image: Limestone County, Alabama, 1922 voter list, p.3 (females);

  1. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Listen to your mama,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Aug 2018 ( : accessed 18 Aug 2018).
  3. Ibid.
  4. North Carolina State Board of Health, Death Certif. No. 163, Susan C. Blalock, Mitchell County, 11 Nov 1929; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Raleigh. Her death certificate says she was born in Mitchell County; that county wasn’t created until 1861.
  5. Josiah and Julia (McGimsey) Baker Family Bible Records 1749-1912, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (New York : American Bible Society, 1867), “Births”; privately held by Louise (Baker) Ferguson, Bakersville, NC; photographed for JG Russell, Feb 2003. Mrs. Ferguson, a great granddaughter of Josiah and Julia, inherited the Bible; the earliest entries are believed to be in the handwriting of Josiah or Julia Baker.
  6. N.C. State Bd. of Health, Death Certif. No. 163, Susan C. Blalock
  7. Bear Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Mitchell County, NC, Susan C. Blalock marker; digital image, Find A Grave ( : accessed 17 August 2018).
  8. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 6367, Eula Robertson (1954); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond.
  9. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell. See also Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. See Judy G. Russell, “Becoming unAmerican,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Sep 2017.
  13. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 32464, Mary E. Green, 12 July 1946; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  14. Texas Dept. of Health, death certif. no. 20306, Margaret Arvy McCann, 13 Apr 1944.
  15. Texas Dept. of Health, death certif. no. 1583, Mrs. Mattie Crenshaw, 26 Jan 1922.
  16. Colorado State Registrar, Death Certif. No. 2203, Mary Isabella Hendrix, 5 Mar 1950.
  17. See 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, TX, population schedule, Paris Post Office, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling 307, family 307, “Gustavis” B. Robertson household; digital image, ( : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  18. Texas Dept. of Health, death certif. no. 9581, Lily Wilson, 13 Feb 1956.
  19. Tombstone, Lula Lancaster, Frederick City Cemetery, Frederick OK, photographed by author, 2002.
  20. Tombstone, Etta Roberts, Frederick City Cemetery, Frederick OK, photographed by author, 2002.
  21. Tombstone, Susie Kidwell, Frederick City Cemetery, Frederick OK, photographed by author, 2002.
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