On this date in 1920, women in North Dakota were able to participate in their first presidential primary, thanks to the passage of partial suffrage in the state legislature. The Bismarck Tribune recorded this shift in voting rights, saying it was the “first time in the history of North Dakota that women will have an opportunity to express their preference for presidential candidates.”
Back then, nominees to serve as delegates in national party conventions were subject to statewide election. And though the state now allowed women to vote in the primary, there was dissent over whether they could vote for the delegates to the national political conventions—or if they could even be nominated for this honor. Nevertheless, Minnie Nielson, Republican, and Mrs. M.A. Rudd, NPL-Republican, had been nominated as delegates to the Republican convention.
Anna Roach also appeared on the ballot for the Democratic party, but she was nominated as a presidential elector, which women could vote on, so there was no debate as to her place on the ballot.
In the end, Nielson and Rudd were kept on the ballots. As a matchup of women from opposing factions of the same party, it was expected to give that election added interest. But women weren’t able to vote in that race!
However, the voting that year was light. A dangerous spring blizzard hit the area, keeping many from the polls. Some polling places didn’t even open due to the weather. It was considered the most severe storm since the blizzard of 1888. Several North Dakotans died, including Hazel Miner, a young woman who saved her younger brother and sister by lying on top of them to protect them from the cold.
Since this vote was a historic event for women, their participation was examined closely. It was guessed that less than one tenth of the women in the state “availed themselves of this privilege,” and it was remarked that the woman’s vote was “expected to amount to almost nothing.”
Despite this, the Bismarck Tribune noted that women did still participate, some even appearing as soon as the polls opened at 9am—and that they filled out their ballots “with as much ease and certainty as men,” which was meant as a compliment. Also, that they “showed considerable independence when assistance was offered.”
And though women could not vote on convention delegates, Minnie J. Nielson still won in her bid to serve as a Republican delegate.
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/