Friday, December 10, 2010
Wyoming Territory passed the first women’s suffrage law on this date in 1869, granting women equal voting rights. Although this led to a dramatic and hopeful response in the more populated areas of the country, Dakota Territory, organized eight years earlier, was slower to champion the cause of women’s suffrage. Sparse settlement and long distances between populated areas limited the opportunities for an organized movement, like those seen in the east.
Despite this, equal suffrage rights for women were on the minds of some politicians. Three years after Wyoming passed a suffrage bill, the Dakota Territorial Legislature voted on a similar measure. The bill failed to pass by only a single vote. Seven years later, in 1879, women were granted limited voting rights in school meetings.
In 1885, would-be women voters discovered another champion in Major J. Pickler. The Major introduced a women’s suffrage bill into the house of the Territorial Legislature. Although the bill passed in both houses, celebrating suffragists found the victory short-lived; Gilbert Pierce, newly appointed Governor to Dakota Territory, vetoed the bill with “one stroke of his pen.” An attempt to override the veto failed. Once again, the Territory’s fifty thousand female residents, who owned nearly one-third of the territory’s land, were left without a voice. It was during this time that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union became a popular forum for unsatisfied women to turn to. The Union worked to advance suffragists concerns, along with prohibition and education. The Union succeeded in lobbying for and passing a bill in 1887 that allowed for women to vote for and be elected to any school office.
In 1889, Dakota Territory entered the Union as the states of North and South Dakota. Both states were required to draw up state constitutions. Neither state granted women suffrage in the process, although support for the move was strong. Women continued to lobby for the vote, but it would not be until 1917 that North Dakota granted women the right to vote in a presidential election. Finally, in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States constitution was ratified, granting full suffrage to all American women.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job