Partial Suffrage for ND
North Dakota women received partial suffrage in 1917 after Governor Frazier signed a bill that mirrored similar legislation in Illinois. The bill granted women “the Right to vote for presidential electors and certain other officers, and to participate and vote on certain matters and in certain elections.” Essentially, the bill let women vote on everything except where they were expressly prohibited by the state Constitution. To get anything else required a constitutional amendment.
So, while North Dakota women were still waiting for full suffrage, they were eligible to participate in the 1920 presidential election—sort of. Of course, complications arose as the date of the primary drew near.
At the Republican State Convention in February, Minnie Nielson, superintendent of public instruction, was nominated to serve as a delegate to the National Republican Convention. Her nomination “was greeted by tumultuous cheering, which continued for five minutes.”
Back then, nominees to serve as delegates in national party conventions were subject to statewide election. However, Attorney General Langer told Nielson she should not file for the position because according to the North Dakota Constitution, people who didn’t have the right to vote for an office couldn’t become a candidate for that office. The 1917 law only granted women the right to vote for presidential candidates—not for delegates to national conventions.
William Lemke, vice president of the Nonpartisan League, a supporter of women’s suffrage, filed a lawsuit, insisting that if women had the right to vote on presidential electors, they should be able to vote for intermediaries, such as delegates.
While this was all under debate, at the last minute, another woman was added to the ballot—Mrs. M. A. Rudd of Fargo, a League-Republican candidate.
In the end, the state Supreme Court allowed these two women to remain on the ballot—but the court did not say women could vote in the delegate race. So, on women’s ballots, that race was not included.
The Grand Forks Herald noted: “Doubtless if the situation had been understood when the women’s franchise act was passed, the office of delegate would have been included. …In any line of human activity other than the making of laws, there is usually some careful checking up on a new regulation before it is adopted. In the matter of legislation, we proceed cheerfully by guess, and trust to luck for the result.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
Bismarck Tribune, Februy 25, 1920, p1 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042243/1920-02-25/ed-1/seq-1/
Bismarck Tribune, March 2, 1920, p1 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042243/1920-03-02/ed-1/seq-1/; p3 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042414/1920-03-02/ed-1/seq-3/
Bismarck Tribune, March 4, 1920, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042243/1920-03-04/ed-1/seq-1/
Jamestown Weekly Alert, March 4, 1920, p2 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042405/1920-03-04/ed-1/
Sources: 1917 Laws of North Dakota, p405-6