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Not Very Minnie


Minnie Jean Nielson was a hardworking woman. Born in Jackson, Michigan, her family moved to Valley City, North Dakota where she attended high school. After graduating, she demonstrated her work ethic by going University of North Dakota, the University of Michigan, and summer school at the University of Chicago. She became a teacher of chemistry and physics at Valley City High School before leaving to become Barnes County Superintendent of Schools. She served in this position for 12 years, but this was not enough to satisfy Nielson. In 1918 she ran for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. At the time, it was the only statewide office open to women.

Nielson ran as a Lincoln Republican. Her opponent, Neil C. Macdonald, was backed by the Nonpartisan League. Macdonald began spreading rumors about Nielson, claiming she was not legally qualified for the position. Nielson knew she had to do something to quell these rumors so she turned to an unlikely ally, attorney general, William Langer. Langer was a member of the Nonpartisan League, but he was also running for re-election on the Republican ticket like Nielson. So, two weeks before the election Nielson drove to Bismarck for a visit with Langer. She asked him to issue an opinion as to whether she was legally qualified to run for office. This was a tough decision, in part because it would hurt Langer’s standing with the NPL.

However, after reviewing all legal requirements, it was clear Nielson met them all. So on this date, October 29th, 1918, Langer issued a statement saying Nielson could legally run for office. This was the push she needed. The results came in on Election Day and she won by over 5,500 votes. This made her the only statewide candidate to win who was not backed by the NPL.

Today’s Dakota Datebook was written by Lucid Thomas, drawing from the book “Important Voices” by Susan Wefald.


Wefald, Susan E. Important Voices. Fargo, ND: Institute for Regional Studies, 2014. Print.