The first city in North Dakota to formally organize a Votes for Women League was Fargo, in early 1912. It happened with the visit and lecture of Miss Sylvia Pankhurst, a British artist, author, and suffragist, who was both daughter to and disciple of famous British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst.
Emmeline led militant British suffragists who demanded the right to vote. They disrupted political meetings, damaged property, were arrested, and while in jail, went on hunger strikes to resist being governed while being denied the vote.
In 1912, her daugher Sylvia was lecturing in the US to gain support for the right to vote for women.1 She was enjoying her time in the United States. She told a representative of Fargo's newspaper that "the American women will make excellent suffragists when they are once awakened to the importance of the movement and what it means for future generations."
In anticipation of Pankhurst's lectures, people crowded into the Fargo Opera House on February 3rd, 1912, only to learn that bad weather delayed her train. A second lecture at the Grand Theatre on February 4th attracted more people than seats. The Fargo Daily Courier News touted "that ‘Votes for Women’ is a subject to which many persons in the city are interested2.”
Pankhurst delivered a stirring address, arguing that women were better than men when it came to considering the repercussions that laws can have on women. She promoted equal pay for equal work, and reminded people that reforms come gradually saying "each man and woman can do his share, no matter how little that may be. Everyone can help in some way.”
Sylvia's spark in establishing clubs worked. Fargo quickly organized and assisted in establishing a statewide network. Men were welcome to join. By the end of the month, they already had a headquarters in the deLenderecie block for the women, and men, of Fargo and Moorhead.
And certainly those hearing Sylvia's speech would remember these words:
“If a candidate opposed votes, work against him;
Avoid organizing a new party;
Send out much literature;
Organize street meetings;
Conduct canvas votes;
Don’t work with just one man, work against those opposed.”5
Dakota Datebook by Ann Braaten, edited and added to by Sarah Walker
1. Garner, Les. “Suffragism and Socialism: Sylvia Pankhurst 1903-1914.” In Sylvia Pankhurst: From Artist to Anti-Fascist, edited by Bullock, I., and Pankhurst R., 58-85, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
2. “Equal Suffrage Warmly Defended by Noted Speaker,” Fargo Daily Courier News, (Fargo, ND), Feb. 5, 1912, p 1.
4. “Miss Pankhurst Lectured Sunday,” Fargo Forum, (Fargo, ND), Feb. 5, 1912, p 1.
5. “North Dakota Votes for Women League, Fargo Chapter Meeting Minutes, 1912 – 1919,” NDSU Archives, North Dakota State University, Fargo. Manuscript 49.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Feb 3, 1912, p16
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Feb. 5, 1912, p10
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 24, 1912, p5
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Feb. 15, 1912, p5
The Evening Times, Feb. 27, 1912, p6