After Suffrage: Becoming Citizens

What did women do with their voting power?

On September 8, 1919, the Minnesota state legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, becoming the 15th state to do so. Eleven months later, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Once it became law in August 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the political tool they had fought for since 1848. In the following years, they would use the vote to affect political and social change at the local and national levels. They were now constituents, and legislators were their representatives.

Following the lead of Carrie Chapman Catt, former president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Minnesota suffragists worked to transform their organization into the Minnesota League of Women Voters.

A group led by Mabeth Hurd Paige held a planning meeting at the Radisson Hotel on October 28 and 29, 1919. Aiming to be as inclusive as possible, they sent invitations to 5500 members of local suffrage organizations, WCTU branches, women's clubs, fraternal women's organizations, 1500 farmers' clubs, and other groups. Attendees came from the Minnesota Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association, the National Council of Jewish Women, the League of Catholic Women, the YWCA, the Rotary Club, and many other organizations.

Their goal was to build a nonpartisan organization to educate the electorate and work to strengthen democratic institutions. Children's welfare and development was a top priority. In 1921, when the federal government passed the Sheppard-Towner bill, establishing federal support for infant and child welfare, local members of the League of Women Voters quickly advocated for the state legislature to join the program.

Minneapolis women were also involved in local politics. Some ran for office, challenging male incumbents for their positions. In many cases, they were successful. Within just a few years, women had joined the City Council, Board of Public Welfare, Board of Estimate and Taxation, school board, library board, park board, Board of County Commissioners, and city planning board.

Images

The Radisson Hotel, ca. 1922

The Radisson Hotel, ca. 1922

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Myrtle Cain (1894-1980) "The Flapper Legislator"<br /><br />

Myrtle Cain (1894-1980) "The Flapper Legislator"

Known as the "flapper legislator,'' Myrtle Cain was elected to Minnesota's House of Representatives in 1922, alongside Sue Metzger, Dickey Hough, Hannah Johnson Kempfer, and Mabeth Hurd Paige. Just 28 years old, she had gained public attention for leading a strike with the Telephone Operators Union in 1918. Even though she only held one two-year term, her impact was significant. As a member of the Women's Trade Union League of Minneapolis and the National Woman's Party, she fell on the "equal rights" side of feminism. In 1923, she pushed unsuccessfully for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota constitution. Opposition came from those who still believed women needed protective legislation. In her view, "some of this protective legislation talk has been a real bugaboo. It really isn't so protective. Often, it protects women from getting some of the good jobs." She also authored successful legislation that outlawed the use of masks and robes by groups like the Ku Klux Klan. As a Catholic, she was a quick target for the KKK, which accused her of disloyalty to the nation and "raising Cain." Hers was the first bill of its kind in the nation, coming three years after the notorious Duluth lynchings, and 15 other states soon followed. Cain was a lifelong resident of Hennepin County. The granddaughter of Irish immigrants and oldest child of a Minneapolis boilermaker, Cain was born in 1894. When she died at 85 in 1980, she was still living in the same north Minneapolis house, at 650 Jackson St. NE., from where she had campaigned in 1922. At the age of 78, she witnessed the Minnesota Senate chamber ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by a vote of 48-18, making it the 26th state to do so. But not enough states followed suit, and the ERA never became part of the U.S. Constitution. She is among 25 Minnesota women honored in the Woman Suffrage Memorial Garden on the grounds of the State Capitol. Citations: Curt Brown, "Trailblazing legislator fought fiercely for equality," Minneapolis Star Tribune (August 24, 2019) "Anti-Klan Bill Passed by House," The Appeal (March 24, 1923) View File Details Page

Mabeth Hurd Paige (1870-1961)<br /><br />

Mabeth Hurd Paige (1870-1961)

In 1922, suffragist-turned-politician Mabeth Hurd Paige was one of the first four women elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. After decades of activism and community involvement, she also played an integral role in the establishment of the Minnesota League of Women Voters and served on their board. Paige represented the Kenwood area of Minneapolis for twenty-two years. She was a dedicated advocate for the environment, children, and mental healthcare.Further Reading:Lauren Peck, "The Women Who Paved the Way," Minnesota Good Age, November 4, 2019 View File Details Page

"Citizenship School," ca. 1920

"Citizenship School," ca. 1920

The League of Women Voters and other organizations worked to set up schools like this one to teach citizenship classes. This was a class in Washington, D.C., circa 1920. Thirty nations were represented: "Italy having the largest number," according to a 1922 article in the Washington Post. "The Hebrews come second, with Greece third." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View File Details Page

Working for Peace and Disarmament at the State Fair

Working for Peace and Disarmament at the State Fair

After World War I, women across the country joined the disarmament movement in an attempt to avoid future wars of that magnitude. In Minnesota, the League of Women Voters (LWV) used the State Fair to gain support. The Minnesota State Fair became a popular place for political women to reach new audiences. Thousands visited the League of Women Voters' booth to learn about their newly minted voting rights and other issues of interest. Disarmament and peace-making were top priorities for the LWV. In August 1921, the Minnesota LWV gave ten minute addresses daily on the topic of international reduction of armament. Mrs. Sumner T. McKnight, president of the Fifth District of Women Voters, spoke about her recent trip to see the destruction of World War I: “they [the Europeans] seemed to be waiting for America to take the lead on the disarmament question.” She expressed hope that newly enfranchised American women would lead historic change. They gathered 3,500 signatures from State Fair attendees in support of a disarmament resolution to be presented to President Warren G. Harding. The resolution praised Harding™s calls for an international arms conference as a step toward permanent peace and an end to wars.Sources: “Women Voters™ League to Push Disarmament Idea During Fair,” The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, July 17, 1921. “Harding to Get 3,500 Minnesotans™ Praise for Arms Parley Move,” The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Sep 24, 1921. Photo: Colored postcard of the Minnesota State Fair Domestic Arts and Handicrafts building, c.1910. The Woman's Building no longer exists, as it was razed in 1970. The Creative Activities Building now occupies the space on the Northeast corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Cosgrove Street. View File Details Page

League of Women Voters poster

League of Women Voters poster

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Street Address:

Radisson Hotel, 41 7th St. S, Minneapolis [map]

Cite this Page:

Brendan Descamps and Jacqueline deVries, “After Suffrage: Becoming Citizens,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed October 31, 2020, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/73.
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