Among the earliest settlers to Dakota Territory, few women have become celebrated or remembered for their efforts, despite the enormity of their contributions and sacrifice. While the names of men litter the early histories of the state, it is rare to encounter accounts written by or about early women of the plains. One woman, however, who has made an indelible print upon the history of North Dakota is Linda Warfel Slaughter, a woman remembered through her extensive writings and reports on the early state of the territory.
Linda Warfel was born in Ohio in 1843. She attended Oberlin College for a few years, but left to become a missionary in the Southern Reconstruction before her graduation. In Kentucky and Tennessee, she helped to organize schools and churches for freedmen, and published three books on her experiences.
“In 1868, shortly before she was to sail for India on missionary work…,” she met Dr. Benjamin Slaughter, a Union Army surgeon. Shortly after they were married, the Army ordered Dr. Slaughter to Dakota Territory. By 1872, the newlyweds found themselves living in a tent at Camp Hancock, in what would later become Bismarck, but was then only a squatter settlement known as Edwinton. There, Linda was given the nickname ‘Cezula*’ by local Indians; the name means “the Squaw who Helps,” and help she did. In addition to helping her husband in his medical work, she organized the city’s first church service and Sunday school. In 1873, she opened the Bismarck Academy, which later became the town’s public school. She was appointed Burleigh County’s first school superintendent, became Bismarck’s first postmistress, and founded the Ladies Historical Society. She also helped found the Daughters of the American Revolution, served as vice president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, and became good friends with Susan B. Anthony.
In 1892, she served as a delegate for the Populist Party, becoming the first woman to vote for a presidential candidate in a national convention, and three years later, she passed the bar exam in Washington, DC, to become an attorney. Today, she is well remembered through her accounts of life in the Dakotas, which were published in all forms, from railroad booster pamphlets to the New York Times. She passed away on this date in 1911 in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Mahoney, Timothy R. and Wendy J. Katz (Eds.). 2008. Regionalism and the Humanities. University of Nebraska: Lincoln, NE.