Take the First Step

Minnesota’s suffrage movement began when women, working alone and in small groups, took action.

On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted into the Union. The new state’s constitution said eligible voters were “every male person of the age of twenty-one years or upwards belonging to either of the following classes. . . .”

We can learn much by looking into the classes of voters listed in our first constitution. For now, though, notice that word “male.” That’s where Minnesota’s first suffragists focused.

To convince legislators to consider removing “male,” suffragists collected signatures on petitions. They gave those petitions to legislators willing to sponsor a bill for them. Once legislators passed the bill, Minnesotans had to vote in favor of changing the law.

Suffragists petitioned the legislature throughout the late 1850s and ’60s. In 1870, they came agonizingly close to success. Five years later, they enjoyed their first victory. Voters approved a bill allowing women to vote for and run in school board elections. The state constitution was amended to include the new school suffrage rules in 1876.

In 1898, the constitution was amended again to allow women to vote for and serve on library boards.

Portrait of Julia B. Nelson.

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