Women's Suffrage and World War I

Women of all backgrounds worked side by side during the war, demonstrating their capacity for civic engagement.

A turning point for the suffrage movement came in April 1917, when the United States entered the First World War. Historians have argued that suffrage volunteerism during the war helped persuade opponents of women's civic capacities.

Clara Ueland and other leading suffragists had misgivings about the decision to enter the far-away "European" war, but they concluded it was necessary and mobilized support among their followers. Minnesota suffragists volunteered in numerous ways. They offered to replace men in industry and worked to educate women on food production and conservation.

Hundreds of them joined the Red Cross. The MWSA turned over their headquarters at the Essex building for Red Cross sewing, led by the skilled Mrs. Bradford Viles who designed the patterns. Others came to this building, the makeshift headquarters of the Red Cross during the war.

In the war effort, women from many different organizations and backgrounds worked side by side. Members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Colonial Dames, and Minneapolis's branch of the Daughters of the Confederacy all volunteered. The Minneapolis Council for Jewish Women, led by president Mrs. Leopold Metzger, provided supplies to the Red Cross. They turned their worship space, the Temple House, into a center for sewing clothes for the war effort and stockpiling medical supplies.

Even anti-suffragists joined in. Lavinia Gilfillan, president of the Minnesota Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, hosted events at her home like sewing clothes for Belgian children, creating care bags for soldiers, and serving on a home-economics committee. Although she was against women's suffrage, that did not mean she was anti-women in public life.

Not all suffragists agreed that patriotic nationalism was the right way to secure the vote. Scandinavian suffragists favored a neutral stance. Clara Ueland's daughters, Anne, Elsa, and Brenda, all questioned the displays of jingoism. In Washington D.C., the National Woman’s Party continued their protests in front of the White House, carrying provocative signs that led to their arrest.

Although Ueland initially had cordial relations with the NWP, she severed ties in 1917, a decision that was controversial among Minnesota women. It spurred the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association to walk out of the MWSA state convention in protest.



Red Cross Headquarters, 722 Second Ave SO