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

Dakota Datebook: 100 Years of Women Voting

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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. 

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.”

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.