Suffrage at the Constitutional Convention: School votes and Laura Eisenhuth
In 1889, who could vote and how they could vote became a keen part of the debates during North Dakota's Constitutional Convention. A. S. Parsons of Mandan headed the standing committee on elective franchise that examined voting rules. Regarding women's suffrage, newspapers noted that this chairman was “unfriendly to the scheme in any shape or form.” Consequently, full enfranchisement was not awarded to women in the constitution, but they were granted the right to vote for school officials, a right they had also held under the territorial laws.
But even that right was debated during the constitutional convention. One delegate moved to change the wording to read any “single” woman who met the general voting qualifications could vote for school offices. Delegate Reuben Stevens, of Lisbon objected to the motion by saying, “I hope this Convention will not offer a premium on old maids.”
Another question arose as to whether women would have to show their ballot, which went against another section that called for voting by secret ballot. Also discussed was whether a woman could vote for the state superintendent of schools, or only the county school officers.
Delegate Stevens stated, “…It is absurd to say that women are entitled to vote for school directors and not for school superintendent and other school officers. … They are as much interested—and more in fact—as the men. Whatever little education I may have I owe to my mother, and not to my father. …The women of this country are interested more in the subject of education than the men, and… they should be entitled to vote on this question, and if they vote on any branch of it, they should vote on all of it.”
Delegate Samuel Moer, of LaMoure, wryly noted that Stevens was “very popular with the ladies now.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Griggs of Grand Forks agreed with Stevens, adding: “that section regarding the secrecy of the ballot was put in there before we decided that women should vote on school matters. Probably that would not have been put in, because it is pretty well known that women have no secrets.”
In the end, all women were allowed to vote for all school offices… and by this date in 1890, Mrs. Laura J. Eisenhuth, already a Foster County school official, was nominated to run for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, “the best and most politic move of the late convention,” according to some newspapers… a “cultured lady” running for an office that women could vote on, though separate ballots would have to be printed for the women.
Eisenhuth won in 1892, and North Dakota was “the first state to choose a woman for an office so high, to a position so responsible, and the people of the state were not dissatisfied with the experiment.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
Bismarck Tribune, August 19, 1920, p1, 3
Debates of the Constitutional Convention
Legislative Manual North Dakota 1889-1890 p100-101
The Bottineau Pioneer, August 16, 1890, p4
The Record, Volume I, No. 2, June 1895, p8