New exhibit focuses on ‘Woman Suffrage in North Dakota’

Submitted Photo North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier signs the Woman Suffrage bill. The bill was signed Jan. 23, 1917. Photo from State Historical Society of North Dakota A5262-00001.

BISMARCK – The right to vote for women was a long battle in North Dakota and across the country.

“Woman Suffrage in North Dakota” is in an exhibit opened recently in the N.D. Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck.

Showing objects and images from the museum’s collections, it was assembled by Elise Dukart, a collections intern for the State Historical Society of N.D. Dukart is a graduate student at Texas Tech University.

In a video about making the exhibit, Dukart said she found the actual “Votes for Women” sash shown in the exhibit. Indicating a photo in the exhibit of a group of women, she said the sash is shown in the photo when it was worn during the Bottineau County Fair by Flora Cameron Burr who was very involved in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She noted the sash may not be easily visible in the photo though.

“Flora Cameron Burr was one of many women in North Dakota heavily involved in the votes for women and one of the women I learned about when I was creating this exhibit,” Dukart said.

Submitted Photo The “Woman Suffrage in North Dakota” exhibit in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, Bismarck, shows various objects and images from the museum’s collections.

The battle for women to have equal voting with men was a long one, beginning in territorial days, when in 1883, a suffrage bill was passed by the Legislature, allowing women to vote in school elections.

Elizabeth Preston Anderson and Linda Slaughter were two women who led the way for women in North Dakota in the suffrage movement.

Anderson was one of the most widely known women in North Dakota for many years through her association with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, according to her obituary in 1951. She was the author of the presidential and municipal suffrage law, which passed the Legislative Assembly in 1917.

The W.C.T.U. was an organization with members who voiced their opinions about social reforms such as prohibition and woman suffrage, according the the State Historical Society of N.D.

The first victory, presidential and municipal suffrage, came in 1917, after 25 years of effort to secure full suffrage, states a booklet, “1889-1939, The Story of Fifty Years, North Dakota Woman’s Christian Temperance Union,” authored by Anderson.

Both the Senate and House passed legislation, and it was signed by Gov. Lynn J. Frazier “in the presence of a distinguished company including the state officers of the W.C.T.U. and the Votes for Women League, Mrs. Grace Clendenning, President,” according to the booklet.

Signed on Jan. 23, 1917, the legislation gave women limited suffrage (i.e. voting for presidential electors, county officials, city officials except police magistrate or justice of the peace and township officers). Women could not vote for members of the Legislature or for U.S. senator or representatives to Congress, according to N.D. Studies.

In 1919, Congress passed a Constitutional Amendment granting women full suffrage. The bill had to go to each state to be approved by either the Legislature or a special convention. The N.D. Legislature approved the amendment in 1919. The 19th Amendment received final approval of the states on Aug. 26, 1920. Women now had equal voting rights with men in the U.S.

“In addition to the Suffrage Movement itself, I decided to use other objects in the State Historical Society of North Dakota collection that had to do with the Equal Rights Amendment,” Dukart said.

She said a portion of the exhibit shows what happened after women gained suffrage, with more information about the Equal Rights Amendment, the women who went on to have positions in Congress and who went on to have their voices heard in voting and through election to different positions in government.

“It was a really fascinating exhibit to work on and I’m really proud of it,” Dukart said.

The exhibit will be available for viewing until approximately May 2020.

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