Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting

  • Hosted by Sarah Walker

The effort for women's suffrage roiled North Dakota for years, along with the rest of the country. The 19th Amendment finally became law in 1919, so it's a good time to look back at the characters, their arguments and actions, the defeats, close calls, and victories.

Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is a Prairie Public radio series in cooperation with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee, and it’s generously funded by the North Dakota Humanities Council, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 


In 1874, the Pembina Bill was proposed to the territorial legislature. This bill would carve a new Territory out of Dakota Territory called Pembina. Senator Sargent offered an amendment to that bill that would allow women the right to vote at the formation of the new territory. Newspapers reported that Sargent offered this because he believed granting women the right to vote would "purify society and open wider avenues to them." 


The Federal Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution passed through the U.S. House and Senate on June 4th, 1919; and thereafter, suffragists rallied, cajoled, hoped and prayed that their united dream would triumph as the bill was sent out to the states to be approved by a three fourths majority. The amendment was known colloquially as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, as she had drafted it many years before.

The Votes for Women's League began to establish itself in North Dakota in 1912. Fargo was the first community to form a Votes for Women League on February 4. It grew quickly. Mrs. Clara Darrow was elected president, and many "well known Fargo women ... entered their names on the charter membership list," according to reports.

On this date in 1914, Mrs. Harriet Darling Hall, National Women's Christian Temperance Union lecturer and organizer, was in North Dakota traveling around the state and lecturing. She was "said to be a strong and forceful speaker," and many looked forward to her talks.

Her first stop was in Fairmount, where she spoke to about 200 people, and the town held a suffrage parade!


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.

Clara Darrow

Apr 21, 2020


On this date in 1915, Clara Darrow of Fargo, lay on her death bed in Jacksonville, Florida. She had taken ill while travelling. It was not completely unexpected, as she had not been in the best of health, but it still was a surprise. Her death occurred at 3am the following day, and only one of her five children arrived in time to see her before she breathed her last—a speedy demise for a dynamo in the suffrage movement in North Dakota.


Yet another attempt at women’s suffrage was made in 1913 during the Legislative Assembly in Bismarck. Those who were pro-suffrage were more organized this time. The legislature actually did pass the bill—but rather than granting immediate suffrage, it left the issue up to voters … all male … in the general election of 1914. 


On this date in 1917, Beulah Amidon, daughter of Judge Amidon of Fargo, was making a name for herself as a suffragist as she traveled the United States. Beulah, 22 years old, was said to be a suffragist since childhood. She had graduated from college in Fargo and then went to California, where she established legal residence so she could vote. Coincidentally, shortly after she moved, North Dakota passed limited suffrage for women. However, she would have to live in North Dakota for a full year again if she wanted to vote in her home state.


By this date in 1920, 35 of the 36 states needed had ratified the 19th Amendment. Some states had already granted full or partial suffrage. North Dakota was one of 12 that had granted partial suffrage, and as a result, women were able to participate in their first presidential primary. A court ruling found that women could also run for election as delegate to national party conventions, and two women were on the ballot for those positions.

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.”