November 2020 will likely find record numbers of women and men at their polling places. Now, picture that scene just 100 years ago when no women were there!
The idea for a 19th amendment, which would allow women the right to vote was proposed in Congress as early as 1878 and finally approved in 1919. Minnesota was the 15th state to ratify and with Tennessee’s approval, the 19th Amendment became official on Aug. 26, 1920. Although the amendment intended these voting rights for all women, those of color still faced enduring inequality and racism, even among some suffragettes. Not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act were black women and others truly able to vote.
How about our great-great-grandmothers here in Minnesota? By 1875, women had earned the right to vote in school board elections. In 1881, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association was formed by Harriet Bishop and Sarah Burger Sterns. Suffrage bills came before the state legislature many times but either died in committee or were defeated.
A huge parade of over 2000 suffragettes marched through Minneapolis in 1914. Soon, a second somewhat more radical group, the Minnesota Branch of the National Women’s Party was formed. They often worked together. By 1919, 30,000 women across the state belonged to suffrage organizations and the Minnesota legislature approved women’s right to vote. Minnesota was now the 15th state to ratify the national vote as well.
Seventy-five years later, the Minnesota 19th Amendment Celebration Committee hosted a successful anniversary celebration. One of the outcomes was to be a memorial garden on the state capitol grounds. The Minnesota state legislature approved $250,000 for such a memorial. $50,000 was raised from private and corporate donors.
The Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board sponsored a juried design competition. Submissions should include accessibility, a path and at least one bench, plantings in the suffrage movement’s colors of pale gold and white with some green and purple, plus other specifications, all within a space no larger than 100 by 150 feet.
The winning design was awarded to architects Ralph Nelson, Raveevarn Choksombachai, with design associate Martha McQuade of LOOM Studio and landscape designer Roger Grothe of Aloha Landscaping, for their proposal. Twenty-three garden beds and nine prairie and woodland plots are separated by lines of pavers. A 90-foot steel trellis is inscribed with 25 names of prominent Minnesota suffragettes. A series of steel tablets share their story.
The Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial was dedicated on Aug. 26, 2000, also the eightieth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Over time, the gardens have been refurbished by the landscaper.
Keep your eyes and ears open for 100-year anniversary celebrations this year. Now, through July 5, 2020, “Votes for Women,”an exhibit celebrating the contributions of Minnesota women to the suffrage movement, is at the Hennepin History Museum. “She Voted: Her Fight, Our Right,” an exhibit on Minnesota women’s suffrage, opens at the Minnesota Historical Society in September. Other events are scheduled around the state and country.
While these celebrations are significant, let’s remember that women have always fought for multiple rights and over long periods of time. A perfect example is the long push for an Equal Rights Amendment which began in 1932, withered away by 1982 and is being resurrected once again.