1889 Suffrage attempts and the Constitutional Convention | Prairie Public Broadcasting

1889 Suffrage attempts and the Constitutional Convention

Jul 29, 2020


Even as Dakota Territory prepped to divide into states in 1889, women’s suffrage was a point of contention. Suffragists presented a petition at the territorial convention in January that was signed by over 4000 women asking the legislature to enact a law giving women the same voting rights as men.

A pro-suffrage representative, Mrs. Barker, spoke at the territorial session, noting, “… 4,000 Christian women of Dakota have sent up their prayers and petitions asking [for] the right of suffrage.  … There are women on this floor who do not want the right of suffrage, but if there is one who does want it, it should be extended to her.”


Representative John Cooke from Jamestown stated, “there is no reason aside from traditional prejudice why the right of suffrage should not be extended to women.” 


Suffrage was not enacted at the convention, but next up was the Constitutional Convention, which convened in Bismarck on July 4th that year. The men held many discussions about who could vote. Voters had to be 21, and debates occurred over how long someone had to be a resident to vote, and whether foreign-born residents could vote before becoming citizens. Delegate John Carland said “It will be seen that … every description of civilized male humanity has been given the right to vote.”


Though it garnered great discussion, woman’s suffrage ultimately would not be offered in North Dakota’s new constitution. It was even debated whether or not the legislature should be given the power to let women vote. Some argued that they should not be granted this since they could not then repeal the right. Eventually, it was established that women’s suffrage could be extended by the legislature, but could not pass unless approved by a majority in a general election.


John W. Scott of Valley City unsuccessfully proposed the simple solution of striking the word “male” from the rules about voting, stating that suffrage was of “far greater importance than prohibition.”


Mr. Carland noted, “It is not necessary in the advocacy of this question for any delegate to champion the right of woman suffrage. It is sufficient for him to know that he is doing justice to every citizen … whether male or female. … The citizens of Dakota include the females as well as the males. If you are here to frame a constitution for one-half, you should say so and not say you are acting for the people.”


Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



Jamestown Weekly Alert, January 31, 1889, p2

Bismarck Weekly Tribune, February 15, 1889, p6


The Hope Pioneer, July 19, 1889, p2

Jamestown Weekly Alert, July 18, 1889, p2

Griggs Courier, July 19, 1889, p2

Bismarck Weekly Tribune, August 2, 1889, p8

Oakes Weekly Republican, January 11, 1889, p4

Debates of the Constitutional Convention 

Legislative Manual North Dakota 1889-1890 p100-101