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. 

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.”

North Dakota women received partial suffrage in 1917 after Governor Frazier signed a bill that mirrored similar legislation in Illinois. The bill granted women “the Right to vote for presidential electors and certain other officers, and to participate and vote on certain matters and in certain elections.” Essentially, the bill let women vote on everything except where they were expressly prohibited by the state Constitution. To get anything else required a constitutional amendment.

Since a first attempt at suffrage in Dakota Territory occurred in 1868, you might think that came about thanks to a concentrated effort. However, this was not the case. In fact, twenty years later, on Feb. 23rd 1888, Marietta Bones wrote to Linda Warfel Slaughter, well-known and prominent pioneer in the Bismarck area. Marietta said in part:

On this date in 1920, more than 2,000 women from across the United States, including a delegation from North Dakota, were attending a convention set up through the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. The weeklong convention was called a celebration of the emancipation of American women. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the Suffrage Association, stated that this “ratification convention” was “the most momentous of all conventions held in the last fifty-one years.”

[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]

The attempt to pass woman’s suffrage in the Dakota Territory was first made in 1868 and 1869 as one of the earliest of its kind in the United States. It passed the House but not the Council, was reworked, and passed the Council, but then the House did not pass it, so the bill failed. Yet the bill did receive much attention around the country, some accurate, some erroneous, and all marking the attitudes that were prevalent.

[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]

Multiple attempts for women’s suffrage were made in Dakota Territory and North Dakota before the approval and passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. One of the first occurred during the eighth territorial session, held December 1868 to January 1869.

[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]

As suffragists worked for their right to vote, they used the holidays to show support for their communities, simultaneously raising awareness for the fight for women’s right to vote.

It was reported that in 1909 in New York, Mrs. Alva Belmont, a financial benefactress and leader of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman’s Party, gave two thousand dolls to poor children; and “each… wore a yellow ‘votes for women’ sash.” Newspapers editorialized, “there seems to be some hope for the cause if the coming generation is to be brought up with suffrage thrust at it from infancy.”

[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]

Governor Lynn Frazier had called a special session in late November 1919 that addressed, among other issues, the proposed 19th Amendment to the US Constitution to grant women the right to vote. The House and Senate both voted in favor by December 1st, and it was signed by both branches on December 4th.

[Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting is produced in cooperation with the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.]

The right for women to vote was disputed for decades. Women and men alike populated both sides of the debate. Proponents united in rallying behind the push for change, which eventually resulted in the passage of the 19th Amendment.

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