Racial and Ethnic Tensions in Minnesota's Suffrage Movement

When the Suffrage Movement Sold Out

Minnesota's suffrage movement struggled with racial, ethnic and class prejudice.

When Jamar Clark died after being shot by Minneapolis police in November 2015, hundreds of people gathered in the square outside Minneapolis's City Hall to demand justice. #BlackLivesMatter, then only two years in existence, led the march.

The fight for racial justice has been long and arduous. Sadly, the women's suffrage movement did not do as much as it could to uplift women of all backgrounds.

While women were campaigning for suffrage in the 1910s, the Mexican Revolution was propelling Mexican immigrants to search for a better life. Some came to Minnesota, finding work on area farms. Their presence was viewed with suspicion by some suffragists. Mrs. Walter Thorp, a close associate of Clara Ueland and secretary of the Political Equality League, remarked that they were “alien voters whose loyalty is in doubt” and “Mexican Peons ... are easily exploitable”.

Native Americans were also marginalized in the movement. While local suffragists idealized Native American culture for its matriarchal organization, they often shared the view that Indigenous peoples were degraded savages in need of rescue. In what today would be labeled cultural appropriation, one St. Paul suffrage group took the name the Sacajawea Club. It aimed to celebrate the brave Shoshoni woman who guided Lewis and Clark. But during its existence from 1904 to 1910, the group focused little on the rights of Native Americans.

African American residents of Hennepin County also took an active interest in the suffrage movement, but they were unlikely to join the overwhelmingly white and middle-class organizations. Nellie Francis organized the Everywoman Suffrage Club in St. Paul to provide a safe and supportive space for Black women to work for voting rights. During World War I, the Everywoman Suffrage Club helped Black people who were orphaned or aged at the Crispus Attucks Home at 469 Tedesco Street in St. Paul.

For more information:

Brenth Staples, "When the Suffrage Movement Sold Out," New York Times, February 3, 2019.

Ellen Gruber Garvey, "Black Suffragists Finally Begin to Get Their Due," Star Tribune, March 31, 2019.

MNHS Minnesota Women Suffrage Association, Press Releases, undated 1913-1918 “Women Want a Loyal Vote,” February 6, 1918



City Hall, 350 S 5th St, Minneapolis, MN 55415