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“An army of women determined to have the ballot”

Published May 2, 2014 by Anna Romskog

Today’s blogger is Anna Romskog, a junior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

Exactly 100 years ago today, “Minneapolis learned by practical demonstration that those who ask the ballot for women are distinctly not a bevy of hopeless spinsters, unhappily married women and persons who have nothing else to do,” according to the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. Members of the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association–shown here– joined 2,000 other suffrage advocates in a procession through downtown, where they braved a gauntlet of jeering men.

The demonstration in the heart of the city’s fashionable shopping district–which was organized by a coalition of organizations demanding political equality for women –took its inspiration from the militancy of British suffragists, who had embraced confrontational direct action tactics in an effort to force the question of female enfranchisement. Marchers’ public show of force reflected a fresh spirit of impatience among women activists in Minnesota, who had been demanding the vote since the since the founding of the city in the 1870s. “By the time they had passed,” the Tribune reported, “the onlookers were impressed with the fact that there is in Minneapolis a considerable army of women sufficiently determined to have the ballot to march through the streets to get it.”

Flag-wielding demonstrators went down Second Avenue to Fourth Street and back down Nicollet. The silent marchers were “not what the multitude of watchers had expected,” according to newspaper coverage.  “They saw women of every walk of life, young women, old women, middle-aged women, working women, rich women, women beautiful, women otherwise.” Immigrant groups–like the one pictured here–were prominent in the demonstration.

The reporter dedicated the most copy to the physical attractiveness of marchers, who defied contemporary stereotypes about women activists. “The chap who had formed the idea that hopeless spinsters were in the majority in suffrage ranks, that girls with plenty of suitors were absent from their roster was terribly jolted,” the anonymous writer declared.

One of the younger marchers–Helen Jones, who was a senior at Minneapolis Central High school and president of the Junior Mobile Suffrage Squad later remembered:

We were told to keep our heads up, eyes in front of us, and to walk in dignity and silence…I never felt so serious in my life and didn’t look at the crowd at all…Some horrid men threw money on our flag and did and said other rather insulting things. It really seemed absurd that the red-faced, [coarse][sic], sneering men whom we passed could vote, and the noble, fine women in the parade could not.

American women gained full voting privileges six years after this parade, with the ratification of the Nineteenth  amendment.

Material for this post was taken from “Paraders Place Equal Suffrage on a New Plane,” from the Minneapolis Tribune, May 3, 1914 and Barbara Stuhler, Gentle Warriors. The image of the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

myrtle cain, voter card, side one, hclib vertical files

Myrtle A. Cain: “indorsed by the Working People’s Political League”

Published March 25, 2014 by Anna Romskog

Today’s blogger is Anna Romskog is a junior history major at Augsburg College. She will be a regular presence here during 2014, when she will be working as one of the student researchers for the Historyapolis Project.

This card–from 1922–urges voters in the 28th district of Minneapolis to vote for Myrtle A. Cain, a candidate for the Minnesota State Legislature who was “indorsed by the Working People’s Political League.” Cain was one of the pioneering political women who immediately sought public office after American women were granted the vote by the Nineteenth Amendment.

In 1922, Cain was one of four women to win seats in the Minnesota state legislature. When she went to St. Paul, she represented a constituency in Northeast Minneapolis that was dominated by immigrants and labor activists like herself.

Before running for office, Cain developed her leadership skills in the labor movement. Cain organized a strike of “Hello Girls” or telephone operators that started in November of 1918, just a few days after the Armistice ended World War I. Under Cain’s leadership, the strikers demanded significant wage increases and better working hours, mounting a bold though ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the local business elite.

At the same time Cain pledged her support to the National Woman’s Party, a radical feminist group organized in 1917 to win full equality for women.  The NWP staged dramatic, non-violent protests to demand the immediate enfranchisement of women; after the Nineteenth Amendment it launched a campaign for a measure it called the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment that would mandate equal treatment for both sexes under the law.

Cain’s activist history shaped her legislative priorities when was took her seat at the State Capitol. She was one of a handful of legislators to support the Granting Equal Rights, Privileges, and Immunities to both Sexes bill. The bill, supported by Cain and six male legislators was not a popular one and was opposed by the three other women who were legislators during the 1923-24 session, including well-known suffragist Clara Ueland. The other three women worried that Cain’s bill was too radical and would erode the political gains just won by women. The vote on the bill was postponed indefinitely. Cain detailed the rest of her agenda on the back of her campaign card: 

myrtle cain, voter card, side 2, hclib vertical files


Much to the relief of more conservative female legislators like Mabeth Hurd Paige, Cain did not win her bid for re-election in 1924. She lost by just 39 votes to John F. Bowers, also of the Farmer-Labor Party.

This set-back did little to dampen her conviction that women deserved equal protection under the law. In 1973–when Minnesota was considering whether to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment–Cain returned to the State Capitol to speak in favor of the measure.

Cain’s voter card is from the vertical files at the Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Central Library. Material for this post is taken from Elizabeth Faue, Community of Suffering and Struggle: Men, Women, and the Labor Movements in Minneapolis, 1915-1945, (University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Mary Pruitt, Myrtle Cain (1894-1980) in The Privilege for Which We Struggled: Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Minnesota, ed. Heidi Bauer, (St. Paul:Upper Midwest Women’s History Center, 1999); Darragh Aldrich, Lady in Law: A Biography of Mabeth Hurd Paige (Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1950).