[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]
Multiple attempts for women’s suffrage were made in Dakota Territory and North Dakota before the approval and passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. One of the first occurred during the eighth territorial session, held December 1868 to January 1869.
The bid for woman’s suffrage, proposed as “a bill for an act to confer upon women the elective franchise and the eligibility to office,” first was introduced in mid-December by House Representative Enos Stutsman, an early pioneer in Dakota Territory. He had settled in Yankton in the fall of 1858, and eventually moved to Pembina in North Dakota. Stutsman was well-educated, worked as a lawyer, and “possessed a splendid and powerful physique of perfect symmetry, except that he was born almost without legs, or with legs not more than a foot long.” Stutsman County was named for him.
The bill Stutsman introduced for full women’s suffrage in 1868 is one of the earliest of its kind in the United States. However, general suffrage had appeared just the year before in the Dakota Territory, when legislators had successfully voted in favor of a suffrage act striking the word “white” from “wherever it occurs in the election laws of this Territory, relating to the qualification of voters.”
A year later, the woman’s suffrage bill did pass through the House by five votes, 14 to 9, on December 23, 1868. The council, however, tabled it, then sent the bill to a committee, and an amended form was voted on and passed through the Council on January 12, 1869, again by five votes, 9 to 4. The amended bill was sent back to the House—where the bill did not pass.
A newspaper in Pennsylvania reported: “Dakota has gone back on the women. The woman suffrage bill passed the House and was approved by the Council with an amendment submitting the question to the people. The House refused to accept this condition and the Council was determined that the husbands and fathers, likewise the old bachelors, should first have their say on the question, so between the two stools the whole matter fell to the ground and the women flirt their petticoats indignantly as they pass the Dakota legislators on the streets.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
Council Journal Dakota 1868-9
House Journal Dakota 1868-9
Council Journal Dakota 1867-8
House Journal Dakota 1867-8
Dakota Legislature Council Journal 1870-71
Dakota Legislature House Journal 1870-71
Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, vol. I, p350-354
General information file on Enos Stutsman, State Historical Society of North Dakota
American Citizen, January 30, 1869, p2 (Canton, Miss.)
The National Republican, January 12, 1869, p1 (Washington City [D.C.])
The Holt County Sentinel, February 26, 1869
Public and Private Laws, Memorials and Resolutions, of the Territory of Dakota Passed by the Legislative Assembly at the Seventh Session Thereof (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.a0004387072&view=1up&seq=7)
The Petroleum Centre Daily Record, January 27, 1869, p2 (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026005/1869-01-29/ed-1/seq-1/)
The Portland Daily Press, January 6, 1869, p2 (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016025/1869-01-06/ed-1/seq-2/)