The History of Woman Suffrage in Minnesota from 1870-1897
When Minnesota joined the United States in 1858, the Minnesota Constitution denied women the right to vote. Despite the continued efforts of Minnesota suffragists and their supporters, women in Minnesota did not receive universal suffrage until the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forced the state to grant it. Minnesota women did obtain the right to vote in school and library elections, however, as well as the right to hold school and library offices. They also won the right to vote in presidential elections in 1919, only one year before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.
The suffragist movement in Minnesota was most active from 1870 to 1897. Overall, the political atmosphere in Minnesota, which tolerated some involvement of women in political activity, but resisted too radical of a departure, made meaningful success difficult for the suffragists to achieve.Furthermore, Minnesota lacked adequate leadership for the suffrage movement.
The first political victory for the suffragists was an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution authorizing the legislature to grant women the right to vote in school elections and hold school offices. A bizarre ballot which led the uninformed to vote yes on the issue without knowing what they were voting for may have played a large role in the amendment's passage. The general population at the time, however, considered education to be part of women's proper sphere, and was probably more comfortable with women having a say in education than in other areas. Minnesota 's educational system was also in desperate need of help at the time; it was short on secondary teachers and its graduates were rarely adequately prepared for higher education.
Women also sought the right to vote on temperance issues and in municipal elections. Although they struggled for several years, even resorting to personal lobbying before the legislature, it was to no avail. The liquor interests pooled its considerable resources to defeat women on the temperance issue. Meanwhile, struggling Minnesotan farmers were more concerned with the expansion of the railroad than suffrage for women. By the end of the 19th century, the suffragists finally were successful in passing a bill expanding women's suffrage to include voting on measures pertaining to libraries and to hold library offices. This was their last success until 1919. Several opposition groups coalesced as the United States in general became more conservative and Minnesota made it more difficult to amend the state constitution.
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