Minnesota Historical Society exhibit on women’s voting earns an A

The following column appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during August and September, 2020.


Historical Society exhibit on women’s voting earns an A

by Joe Nathan

What a great time to celebrate heroes – or if you prefer, “sheroes.”

The Minnesota Historical Society is making this possible with a new, free online exhibit of Minnesota women deeply involved in the effort to ensure women and others can vote. It’s called Votes for Women. The exhibit includes mostly women who favored women’s suffrage. But it also includes the president of a Minnesota group that opposed this. And through a variety of live events, MHS not only looks back but also looks ahead.  The exhibit’s homepage is here.


As an educator who taught history, as well as a parent and grandparent, I’d give the exhibit an A.

The website and other activities celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification, in 1920, of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This guaranteed that white women could vote. The exhibit features a timeline showing, among other things, that in 1869, the Minnesota Legislature defeated a bill that would have permitted women to vote, 22-21.

Part of the exhibit profiles more than 40 fascinating women. It shows considerable disagreement, even among those demanding that women be allowed to vote. MHS explains: “Don’t imagine the suffrage movement as all women marching as one. Instead, imagine groups of women moving forward on paths that sometimes intersected.”

For example, women disagreed about whether it was as important for African Americans as for women to vote. Some wanted to broaden the campaign to include treaty rights for American Indians and other civil rights as well as to challenge lynching. The exhibit provides one page-profiles of African American, American Indian, Asian American, Latina and white women. Each profile offers links to additional information about the person. The exhibit’s homepage is here.

Featured women include (and these are just a few of many):

— Marie Bottineau Baldwin was born in Pembina on her ancestral homelands on the current North Dakota-Minnesota border. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she worked for treaty rights and women’s suffrage. More information about her is found here.

— Nellie Griswold Francis founded the Everywoman Suffrage Club (ESC) in 1914. This was Minnesota’s only the only Black woman suffrage organization. She promoted both voting and other civil rights, which made her controversial in and outside of the suffrage movement. Read more here.

— Nellie Stone Johnson is described as “a fearless labor organizer, activist, and small business owner.” Students may be especially interested in noting that her activism began when she was a teenager.  Here’s her story

— Marguerite Milton Wells became president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Once the 19th Amendment was adopted, the organization became the League of Women Voters. Wells later was president of the national league. Learn more at her here.

— Ruth Tanbara was forced to move to Minnesota as part of the World War II forced relocation of Japanese Americans. Reported to the FBI on suspicion of hosting Japanese soldiers, she was actually hosting her brother and his friends, who were training at the Military Intelligence Service school at Fort Snelling. Tanbara promoted greater opportunities for immigrants and multi-cultural understanding. More information about her is here.

— Joan Growe, unlike the women listed above, is one of several people profiled who are alive. Growe was elected Minnesota Secretary of State six times. Read her profile here. I listened to a fascinating interview with Growe, found here.

This interview is just the first of several free “online events” that MHS is offering this fall. The website and these events are terrific, free sources of information and inspiration.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. He has been an urban public school teacher, administrator, and PTA president. Reactions welcome: Joe@centerforschoolchange.org