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Politics of the Past: Suffragists fought uphill battle in Minnesota

Editor’s note: This summer and fall, Capitol Report is dipping into the Minnesota Historical Society’s political archives and scooping out documents and artifacts exploring the state’s rich record of voting reforms, colorful politicians, contested elections, curious facial hair and more.

In the mid-1910s — a century before this week’s historic nomination of a woman for president — the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association had been lobbying the state’s Legislature for the right to vote for more than three decades. It had little to show for its efforts.

Year after year, bills to remove the word “male” from Minnesota’s voting requirement would die in committee or on the floor. The most recent tangible step forward for female voters — the right to vote in school board elections — had come in 1875 and now seemed slight.

Discouraged by repeated failures and hoping to surmount infighting over tactics, the MWSA redirected its energies toward amending the U.S. Constitution. United by a common goal of national suffrage, the Minnesota women’s voting rights movement gathered momentum, and its members’ efforts were eventually rewarded by the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Educational literature played a prominent role in spreading the message and was distributed by suffragists at expositions, including the Minnesota State Fair, and parades, including a 2,000-woman march through Minneapolis and St. Paul in May 1914.

Why should women vote

This 1915 pamphlet, donated by the Minnesota League of Women Voters, uses a map of voting rights across the country in an “appeal to gallant men” to give suffrage to all women, not just those living in the West. (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Suffrage Cartooned

On another page of the pamphlet, a cartoon satirizes how little women had in common with other non-voters (their “peculiar political peers”); women are shown peaceably reading and baby dandling, surrounded by unsavory personifications of disenfranchised cliques — the “convict,” the “insane man,” the “boodler” (a trafficker in stolen goods). (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Dawn of Reason

A third page illustrates the bliss of voting: A neoclassical drawing, labeled “Woman sees the Dawn of Reason,” depicts a young lady in a billowy white dress gazing yearningly at a manicured, sun-drenched garden. (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Woman the Helpmate

An artifact of Minnesota’s anti-suffrage movement, this undated booklet was published by the Minneapolis Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. “I believe the most important factors of the State are the wives and mothers who make men good citizens, to govern and protect the state,” Mrs. Edmund Pennington writes. “Let us unite to save the true nature of womanhood — the dignity of motherhood, the unity of the family and the influence of home.” (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Better Babies

The cover of this “Better Babies” pamphlet, which also dates to 1915, is given to a cartoon of a baby cowering in fear as an army of tiny infernal creatures invades the toddler’s home. The caption reads: “I wish my mother had a vote — to keep the germs away.” Readers of the pamphlet learn that countries where women can vote have the lowest infant death rates. “Isn’t it evident that when mothers are represented in government and their opinions and interests are consulted, babies have a better chance?” the author writes. “Isn’t it proved that women with the ballot do not neglect their home and babies?” (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

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Minneapolis women vote in a 1908 school board election in a downtown Minneapolis precinct.(Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

This 1915 pamphlet, donated by the Minnesota League of Women Voters, uses a map of voting rights across the country in an “appeal to gallant men” to give suffrage to all women, not just those living in the West. (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)On another page of the pamphlet, a cartoon satirizes how little women had in common with other non-voters (their “peculiar political peers”); women are shown peaceably reading and baby dandling, surrounded by unsavory personifications of disenfranchised cliques — the “convict,” the “insane man,” the “boodler” (a trafficker in stolen goods).  (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)A third page illustrates the bliss of voting: A neoclassical drawing, labeled “Woman sees the Dawn of Reason,” depicts a young lady in a billowy white dress gazing yearningly at a manicured, sun-drenched garden. (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)An artifact of Minnesota’s anti-suffrage movement, this undated booklet was published by the Minneapolis Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. “I believe the most important factors of the State are the wives and mothers who make men good citizens, to govern and protect the state,” Mrs. Edmund Pennington writes. “Let us unite to save the true nature of womanhood — the dignity of motherhood, the unity of the family and the influence of home.” (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)The cover of this “Better Babies” pamphlet, which also dates to 1915, is given to a cartoon of a baby cowering in fear as an army of tiny infernal creatures invades the toddler’s home. The caption reads: “I wish my mother had a vote — to keep the germs away.” Readers of the pamphlet learn that countries where women can vote have the lowest infant death rates. “Isn’t it evident that when mothers are represented in government and their opinions and interests are consulted, babies have a better chance?” the author writes. “Isn’t it proved that women with the ballot do not neglect their home and babies?” (Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)Minneapolis women vote in a 1908 school board election in a downtown Minneapolis precinct.(Submitted image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)
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One comment

  1. Bravo! Thank you for shining a spotlight on the history of women in politics and the fight for voting equality. If we can be of help, please contact me or Susan Sheridan Tucker, Executive Director, LWV Minnesota. — Terry Kalil, President, League of Women Voters Minnesota

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