Dakota Datebook

Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Rumors swirled this week in 1884, as reported in the Jamestown Morning Alert. The gossip centered on a possible successor to the newly-appointed Governor of Dakota Territory, Gilbert Pierce. Although Pierce had only been appointed the previous summer, residents of the Territory were extremely suspicious of the move made by President Chester Arthur. Suspicion, however, was to be expected, as the appointment became necessary following the corruption of Pierce’s successor, Nehemiah Ordway. Dakota constituents began to suggest possible candidates to succeed the Governor in earnest. Perhaps a little surprisingly, the name thrown into the ring this time was that of a woman, Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland. This public nomination, although a nomination in name only, carried a little irony, as Governor Ordway had recently vetoed women’s suffrage – the right to vote.
Cynthia Cleveland, the Morning Alert reported, was not only “an earnest and effective worker” in her position as president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but also an excellent and intelligent lawyer. Cleveland happened to be the first, and only, female lawyer in the territory. She was often referred to as “Dakota’s Lady Lawyer.” Although Miss Cleveland never did become Pierce’s replacement, she did go on to make a name for herself.

Cleveland was born in Canton, New York, in 1845. In 1883, she became the first woman to practice law in Dakota Territory, and in 1885 she became the first woman to be appointed to a government clerkship upon a civil service examination. Cleveland, a noted political speaker, began her political career as an Independent Republican, but later worked for the Democratic party and worked on the campaign of her relation, President Grover Cleveland. The “lady lawyer” also campaigned tirelessly for the temperance movement – she helped ensure that prohibition laws were written into the state constitutions when North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union.

Between 1882 and 1887, Cleveland traveled extensively through the Territory speaking at social events (even to a Deadwood congregation!) preaching the moral responsibility of temperance. She is most remembered, however, for her books, including See-Saw: or Civil Service in the Departments and His Honor: a Thrilling Realistic Story of the United States Army.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

The Sunday Morning Alert (Jamestown). Sunday, Dec. 14, 1884: p.1.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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