Thursday, January 8, 2004
The United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year. The woman chosen for North Dakota’s special honors was Minnie Craig, and Sunday marks the anniversary of that ceremony.
Minnie Davenport Craig was born in Phillips, Maine, in 1883. She was a very bright student, and after graduating from high school, she taught school, went to college and the New England Conservatory of Music. She married Edward Craig, and they migrated to Esmond, North Dakota, where Edward had a financial interest in the local bank.
The couple soon became involved in the Nonpartisan League, and in 1923, Minnie decided to run for the State House of Representatives. In a state famous for its political independence and risk-taking, two women won seats that year – just three years after they’d won the right to vote.
She quickly earned a reputation for keeping meticulous notes, but not everybody appreciated her as a political leader. A 1927 article reported, “The Housed seems to be sort of henpecked. Mrs. M. Craig watches every move that is made and is ready to blast any presumptuous member with that cold, withering glance that the members know so well and dread so much.”
Despite some male opposition, Craig ended up serving for six consecutive sessions. And in 1933, she made history when she was elected her Speaker of the House. It was the first time in this nation’s history that a woman served as the head of a legislative body.
That session was not an easy one. The first state capitol had burned down, and their temporary chambers in the Civic Auditorium were noisy and chaotic. The state was also in the midst of the worst agricultural depression in its history, and obstacles to long-lasting relief were enormous. In 1934, she left politics to work for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, touring the state and organizing relief efforts for counties hardest hit by drought and grasshoppers.
This groundbreaking pioneer once gave some advice to women: “Lady, if you go into politics, leave the men alone. Don’t run to them for everything you want to know. Don’t swallow all they tell you. Post yourself first. Establish your own opinions. Build your own knowledge and confidence, and do it by yourself.
“There’s a field – a grand one for women – in politics, but women must…play politics as women and not as weak imitations of their ‘lords and masters.’ Men are all to inclined to ‘stuff’ a lady full of nonsense, treat her with not to much respect for her intellect and be far happier when she’s nicely tucked away in some corner where she can do them no harm – and herself no good.
“But it doesn’t have to be that way…She has certain natural talents which men don’t have. Women are naturally given to detail…If they weren’t, they couldn’t make pies or sew dresses. Men don’t like details. Because of woman’s training…she’s more thorough than man and right there she has a splendid opportunity for politics.”
Minnie Craig, of Esmond. . . the nation’s first woman to be elected leader of a legislative body.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm