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American Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Minneapolis, 1885

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Church of the Redeemer, Minneapolis

Church of the Redeemer, 215 Eighth Street South, Minneapolis, 1905. Photo by C. J. Hibbard.

The fight for woman suffrage in Minnesota was well underway when the American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Minneapolis in 1885. Key leaders of the movement were on hand to speak, among them prominent Minnesota suffragists, both female and male.

The long campaign for woman suffrage began with the convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. Congress gave the movement a setback when it adopted the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, specifying "male" as a qualification for voting. In response, suffrage leaders stepped up the effort by starting two new organizations the following year.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association to gain the vote by constitutional amendment. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Stone's husband, Henry Blackwell started the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The AWSA worked for suffrage through state auxiliaries.

In 1881, a group of local women led by Sarah Burger Stearns of Duluth formed the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) in Hastings. By this time, the Fifteenth Amendment had technically extended suffrage to African American men (1870) and Minnesota women could vote in school board elections (1875). The state legislature had considered several petitions and suffrage bills in the 1860s and 1870s, but none had succeeded.

In October 1885, the AWSA's seventeenth annual convention came to Minneapolis. Minnesota sent five delegates, one for each of the state's congressional districts. Local newspapers featured both pro- and anti-suffrage articles. Detractors doubted the success of the suffrage movement, accusing most women of being "fatally apathetic" to the vote. They argued that women's influence over their husbands, whose duty was to represent the family unit at the polls, was sufficient. Pro-suffragists responded that men and women both had much to offer in public affairs—that their different perspectives offered a balance that was missing with half of the population disenfranchised.

The convention opened on October 13 at the Church of the Redeemer in Minneapolis. AWSA President William Dudley Foulke of Indiana gave the opening remarks, followed by speeches from Lucy Stone, Dr. Hannah Cutler Cobden of Illinois, and Henry Blackwell. All spoke of progress made and predicted the movement's ultimate national success. Thirteen states allowed women to vote in school elections, and three territories (Wyoming first, followed by Washington and Utah) gave them full suffrage rights. Major J. A. Pickler shamed Governor Gilbert Pierce of Dakota Territory for vetoing the suffrage bill passed by his legislature earlier that year—an echo of Minnesota Governor Horace Austin's veto in 1870.

Minneapolis Mayor George A. Pillsbury spoke that evening. He questioned the sense of preventing intelligent, native-born women from voting when “ignorant and debauched ” male foreigners, new to citizenship, enjoyed that right. AWSA President Foulke delivered a powerful speech in which he reminded the assembly that "the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed," a principle violated with the vote denied to female citizens. Lucy Stone spoke on the duties and strengths of motherhood and the logic of including women's voices in policy-making, particularly on issues concerning women and children.

The sessions on October 14 featured reports from each state auxiliary. Dr. Martha G. Ripley, president for the MWSA, reported that Minnesota women had petitioned Congress for the passage of a sixteenth amendment with a request that married women be allowed to retain their property. They lobbied the state legislature each year, and vowed to continue to do so until achieving suffrage. Sixty-five Minnesota newspapers published weekly suffrage articles.

Sarah Burger Stearns spoke on the progress being made in higher education for women as more colleges opened their doors to female students.

The Committee on Resolutions declared perhaps the strongest arguments in favor of woman suffrage by citing the US Constitution. Women were not only being governed without their consent, they were being taxed without representation. If political power lay with the people, then women, as people, should be permitted to vote.

At the final session on October 15 attendees heard the AWSA's resolutions and elected officers. Minnesota's Martha A. Dorsett was elected a vice president at large, Sarah Burger Stearns a vice president for the states, and Dr. Ripley as a member of the Executive Committee of States.

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"A Beautiful Tribute." Minneapolis Tribune, October 19, 1885.

"For Women's Rights." Minneapolis Tribune, October 15, 1885.

Cornell. Legal Information Institute. 14th Amendment.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

Cornell. Legal Information Institute. 15th Amendment.
https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxv

"The Minnesota Women Suffragists Assemble in Annual Convention." Minneapolis Tribune, October 16, 1885.

"Sine Die." Minneapolis Tribune, October 16, 1885.

"Suffrage at the University." Minneapolis Tribune, October 16, 1885.

"The Suffragists." Minneapolis Tribune, October 11, 1885.

"Suffrage Seekers." Minneapolis Tribune, October 14, 1885.

"Woman Suffrage Convention." Minneapolis Tribune, October 13, 1885.

[No headline.] Worthington Advance, October 1, 1885.

Related Images

Church of the Redeemer, Minneapolis
Church of the Redeemer, Minneapolis
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony
Lucy Stone (1818–1893).
Lucy Stone (1818–1893).
Henry Brown Blackwell
Henry Brown Blackwell
William Dudley Foulke
William Dudley Foulke
Martha George Ripley
Martha George Ripley
Sarah Burger Stearns
Sarah Burger Stearns
George A. Pillsbury
George A. Pillsbury
Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe

Turning Point

In October 1885, the American Woman Suffrage Association comes to Minneapolis.

Chronology

July 1848

The first women's rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and a group of local Quaker women.

July 9, 1868

The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution is adopted, specifying"male" as a qualification for voting.

1869

Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Blackwell organize the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Julia Ward Howe is the organization's first president. The AWSA's mission is to work for suffrage through its state auxiliaries.

1869

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, further extending suffrage to African American men. The amendment states that suffrage cannot be denied on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," but excludes gender.

February 3, 1870

Minnesota women gain the right to vote in school board elections.

1875

The Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) is founded in Hastings with Sarah Burger Stearns as the first president.

1881

The Seventeenth Annual Convention of the American Woman Suffrage Association convention convenes at the Church of the Redeemer in Minneapolis. It is a three-day meeting, with morning, afternoon, and evening sessions.

October 13,1885

Before leaving Minnesota, Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry B. Blackwell, are invited to speak to students at the University of Minnesota by University President Cyrus Northrup.

October 16, 1885

The MWSA holds its annual meeting. A new constitution is approved, freeing them from direct affiliation with the American Woman Suffrage Association to allow more freedom in carrying out their state suffrage work.

October 16, 1885

The American Woman Suffrage Association merges with the National Woman Suffrage Association to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

1890

African American women form the National Association of Colored Women.

1896

Minnesota women gain the right to vote in library elections and serve on library boards.

1898

Nellie Griswold Francis founds the Everywoman Suffrage Club for African American women.

1914

The Minnesota Legislature becomes the fifteenth state to ratify the nineteenth amendment, granting women full suffrage.