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, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the federal woman’s suffrage bill, meeting the three fourths majority required to pass the 19th Amendment. The bill had easily passed the Tennessee Senate, but had remained deadlocked in the State House of Representatives. Finally, young Harry Burn, whose own constituents were locked in debate and swelling in anti-suffrage ranks, changed his “nay” to an “aye,” creating uproar in the room. Another representative, a staunch anti-suffragist, changed his vote as well so that he could propose voting again, but nothing would change—suffrage passed.


In 1889, who could vote and how they could vote became a keen part of the debates during North Dakota's Constitutional Convention.  A. S. Parsons of Mandan headed the standing committee on elective franchise that examined voting rules.  Regarding women's suffrage, newspapers noted that this chairman was “unfriendly to the scheme in any shape or form.” Consequently, full enfranchisement was not awarded to women in the constitution, but they were granted the right to vote for school officials, a right they had also held under the territorial laws.


Even as Dakota Territory prepped to divide into states in 1889, women’s suffrage was a point of contention. Suffragists presented a petition at the territorial convention in January that was signed by over 4000 women asking the legislature to enact a law giving women the same voting rights as men.


On this date in 1914, suffragists were prepping to represent their cause at the North Dakota State Fair, to be held in Fargo from July 20-25.

Suffrage Symbols

Jul 8, 2020


On this date in 1913, well-known North Dakota resident Sara Cushing received accolades for her recent submission of “a design in the form of a sticker for use on all correspondence, which met with the immediate approval of the suffrage leaders as the insignia for which they have been wishing. The design is in the suffrage colors, yellow and white, and the two phrases, Service for Uplift and Votes for Women, are prominent.” The Fargo Forum noted, “North Dakota has the honor of being the home of the author of what is expected to be the national emblem for the suffrage cause.”


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.