North and South Dakota officially became states on this date in 1889, at a time when suffrage was a hot topic of conversation. The year began with suffragists requesting the right to vote at the territorial legislative session. In July, members of the constitutional convention met in Bismarck and discussed whether the right for women to vote should be written into the state constitution. Neither of these proved fully successful, but women were able to retain their right to vote for matters relating to schools.
At the end of 1889, North Dakota’s first state legislative session was held. This heralded a third attempt to pass legislation that would grant women’s suffrage, with separate suffrage bills put forth in both the House and the Senate.
Representative William Beard, from Hunter, proposed House Bill 90, calling it “an act granting women equal rights with men in the State of North Dakota.” The Bismarck Tribune noted that this bill would “give women the right to vote, sit on juries, and do anything which the law permits the ‘troswer half’ of creation to do.” This bill was initially recommended to pass, but was voted on to postpone. It did not make it to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senator Samuel Fisher, of Valley City, proposed Senate Bill 99 – “A bill for an act granting the right of suffrage to women.” The vote was 16 for to 8 against, but this did not meet the constitutional majority necessary to pass. It also failed in the House.
Had either bill succeeded, suffrage would still have faced a vote in the next general election, due to the setup of the state’s constitution.
Consequently, North Dakota did not start out with suffrage for women, but it did begin as a dry state, and many felt the two issues should go hand-in-hand — and that the state should “repeal the one or adopt the other.” As a report from Bismarck stated, “North Dakota needs a popular name, and with both of them [prohibition and women’s suffrage], she would be easily entitled to be dubbed the ‘crochet state.’ Let it come.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
Jamestown Weekly Alert, January 30, 1890, p1
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 17, 1890, p6
Jamestown Weekly Alert, Volume 19, 1889, p2
House Journal, 1889-1890
Senate Journal, 1889-1890