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Don’t Forget Nellie


When Minnie Craig of Esmond was elected as a North Dakota state representative in 1922, she marked the beginning of political service for women in this state and in this country. However, Minnie wasn't the only woman elected that session. She shared the honor and status of being the first female elected to serve in the legislature with Nellie Dougherty, of Minot.

While Republican Minnie Craig was of the Nonpartisan League, Nellie Dougherty, a Democrat, was elected through the Independent Voter's Association, a group organized by some Republicans in opposition to the NPL.

They say keep your friends close, and your enemies closer; that's likely to have been the case, since the only two women serving were from warring factions. Nonetheless, newspapers described the two women in similar terms; they had similar ideals and even similar backgrounds, since both served as schoolmistresses. John Andrews, editor of the Fargo paper, described Minnie as "a fine clear-eyed and clear-thinking woman of good presence and attractive personality" and described Nellie as "a slight slip of womanhood, youthful and obviously earnest." He said "her white face, set out in profile, and her moving lips, gave the impression of a girl in prayer."

Nellie only served one term as State Representative, but her energy and enthusiasm for civic and state matters did not wane. She was involved with different organizations and was identified with many ongoing civic projects. Several years after the end of her only term, in 1928, she was appointed the Democratic National Committeewoman for North Dakota, and in March, 1933, five days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president, she was named postmaster in Minot, the first appointment of FDR's administration. In November of that same year, she was the only woman to take part in a delegation of 15 sent to Washington to ask the public Works Administration for $65,000,000 for the Missouri River Diversion project.

On this date in 1955, Nellie Dougherty died. She was 66 years old, and had never married.

Perhaps, in the end, she took literally the advice that Minnie Craig, her fellow legislator and political enemy, gave to female politicians: "Lady, if you go into politics, leave the men alone."

By Sarah Walker


Minot Daily News, Thursday, January 27, p.1, Jan. 8, 2004 Datebook entry, Jan. 3, 2008 Datebook entry

"Lady, if you go into Politics," by Ann M. Rathke, Sweet Grass Communications, 1992