Mrs. Knapp, whose husband was murdered and body was buried in the corn field in the town of Grand Meadows, Mower County, over two years since, has been on trial in Austin this week for alleged participation in the murder. He had assaulted her once too often. The trial has not yet been concluded.
Rochester Post, September 9, 1869
The legislature had rejected petitions to place women’s suffrage before the voters, but it served the women of Minnesota in a different, though unexpected, way when this same body of lawmakers voted to amend chapter 69 of the general statute titled “Married Women.” Minnesota’s Married Women’s Property Law was a measure intended to secure the economic stability of married women by allowing them to retain full ownership of the property they held at the time of marriage. A husband had no automatic marital claim over his spouse’s property. Rather, she held it—and all duties incumbent to owning property such as selling, renting, leasing, and receiving due monetary profits—“free from the control of her husband, and from any liability or amount of his debts, as fully as if she was unmarried.” In an article printed months after the law was enacted, Stearns wrote that the new law has, “in its practical effect, probably more real importance to the sex than would be attainment of the elective franchise,” and that it had passed against “feeble opposition.” It had also passed with no fanfare, even from the suffrage community, for despite its significance, it nevertheless seemed to some paternalistically intended as a consolation prize, feigned generosity, something to be dismissed.
The final vote was 31 to 13 and the alignment of votes seemed quite peculiar, since fourteen of those who voted against the suffrage bill (among them Rudolph, Smith, McDonald, and Patterson) voted in favor of the property bill. Conversely, five legislators (including Tibbetts) who voted in favor of suffrage voted against the property bill. On the surface it would seem peculiar in light of the defeat of the women’s suffrage bill by the same body of legislators. Both bills provided women with a significant degree of independence; and yet, it is clear that the men in St. Paul viewed the two measures as wholly separate policies. Suffrage to them was more threatening to domestic tranquillity than the property law that protected a married woman from being dragged into debt that her husband caused.
The traditional view, as reflected in an 1818 Connecticut court decision, held that a husband acquired absolute rights to the use of the real property of his wife during her life. By allowing women some control over their property, the state, in part, sought to stabilize the family; in case of economic failure, the woman’s property could help the family make a new start. But the key to understanding what the property law meant to the legislators was that “economic and legal pressures, not egalitarianism, propelled these changes.” Nonetheless, in 1869, friends of suffrage, even those who would passionately advocate for the bill in the next session, saw the property law as having more practical importance to women than would be attained by the elective franchise.
The property law received little attention from its inception. There was virtually no coverage in the press, no editorials, no petitions, no speeches or debates before filled galleries, and, as mentioned, no fanfare when the bill was enacted. Indeed, the supporters of women’s rights did not seem to actively campaign for the law though they no doubt welcomed it once enacted. But many felt that rejoicing in its passage would take the pressure off the legislators to address the higher goal of women’s suffrage. What they so dearly sought had not yet been achieved, and it could only be achieved through state action. The sting of disdain that came with laughter heard during the session in 1869 signaled the end of courtly formality. It was now clear to Stearns and Mary Colburn that within this political climate, moral suasion would not work on the state party leaders. It was easier for white men to relinquish their racist impulse than their sexist impulse. These men only understood political leverage. It was time to organize. But this would be a challenge, not just because of resistance from political leaders, but also from the sheer isolating quality of distance. As Stearns would later write, “The advocates of suffrage in Minnesota were so few in the early days, and their homes so remote from each other, that there was little chance for coöperation, hence the history of the movement in this State consists more of personal efforts than of conventions, legislative hearings and judicial decisions.” Stearns and Colburn were nearly one hundred miles apart. During a Minnesota winter, the distance seemed insurmountable. Nonetheless, they worked assiduously to organize within their respective communities to raise the conscience of women’s empowerment. By the end of the year, two suffrage societies would be formed, one in Champlin and the other in Rochester which would hold its first meeting in the Stearns home, numbering up to fifty members, all dedicated to the purpose of extending the franchise to Minnesota’s women. “The women,” Mrs. A. H. Bright later wrote in 1914, “vowed not to disband until the suffrage law was attained, but unfortunately,” she added with considerable understatement, “the effort has been greater than they anticipated.”
* * * * *
A case of abortion occurred at Owatonna a few nights ago. A hired girl in a private family destroyed an infant at midnight, amid thunder, lightning, and rain. She had retired as usual in the evening, but was discovered in a precarious condition the next morning, which fully indicated that a child had been got rid of. Search was instituted, and no traces could be found, but it was well known that she was absent from the house during the storm. It is supposed she buried the infant in some secluded spot. A bottle of medicine which produced the result, was found in her possession. This crime of abortion is becoming fearfully prevalent among those of both high and low estate.
Rochester Post, September 11, 1869
Starting in October, activities in Rochester seemed to speed forward with a series of events orchestrated by Sarah Stearns. First, the Literary Association sponsored a lecture by the controversial racist George Francis Train, “acknowledged,” as Stearns reported, “as the most fearless, eloquent and popular speaker in the country.” Clearly Republican eyebrows were raised at the news. “Crowded, fashionable and appreciative audiences have attended Mr. Train’s lectures whenever he has appeared. His powers of enchantability are unequaled in the poetic and impassioned eloquence by that of any lecture. We shall expect to see the hall densely packed.”
Second, in November as they watched the Fifteenth Amendment gain support from the states and come to Minnesota for approval, Stearns and Colburn were even more convinced if the enlightened men of the legislature wanted, they could persuade the voters to likewise extend suffrage rights to the women of Minnesota. Politicians, many of whom they knew personally, just needed to be inspired, and nothing inspired politicians more than massive appeals from the constituents. At the end of November, Stearns held the first gathering of what would be the Rochester Woman Suffrage Society. “A few ladies of this city met on Saturday last for the purpose of forming an association for the consideration of the question of woman’s suffrage.” This call to organize appeared in the first article to which Stearns signed her name. As chair of the executive committee, education chair, and corresponding secretary, it was her operation from stem to stern. With this organization, and joining forces with Colburn’s Champlin group, Stearns mounted a new campaign to flood the legislature with petitions in time for the session in early 1870.
* * * * *
A child is recently born in Wright County, in this State, whose mother was less than twelve years, and whose father, John Slaughter, was thirty-five. The mother of the smart child-mother wrote to the Sauk Centre Herald, under date of January 12th as follows:
“We are still alive and doing well. New talk of your smart town and you smart people. Talk of John and Penolla! On the 28th of December, they had added to their household a daughter weighing seven pounds and a half. Where the smartness comes in is the age of the mother. Her age is eleven years, eight months, and twenty days, and her weight before the birth of the child was eighty pounds.”
Rochester Post, january 29, 1870
* * * * *
In January 1870, thirteen months after the Minnesota victory for black suffrage, Congress submitted the question of ratification for the Fifteenth Amendment to the states. A minimum of twenty-eight out of thirty-six states, which constituted two-thirds as mandated by the Constitution, were needed, and a handful of legislatures already had voted to support the amendment. The reversal of support by the New York legislature, due to a resurgent Democratic majority that culminated in that body’s reversing itself by withdrawing ratification, caused proponents to worry about ultimate success. The concerned St. Paul Press rallied its readers: “There is a strong ground for apprehension that the amendment is in great danger of failing. Minnesota can’t come too promptly to the rescue.” On Thursday, January 13, 1870, Minnesota ratified the Fifteenth Amendment “by strict party vote, every Republican voting for it, every Democrat voting against it.” Twenty-one days later the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. The right to vote did not extend to women, a group that even the St. Paul Press would describe as “the only class of citizens wholly underrepresented in the government.”
On January 13, by joint resolution of the House and Senate, the legislature approved the new federal constitutional amendment; Governor Horace Austin signed the resolution on January 21. It appeared then that a momentum in favor of universal suffrage had begun among state leaders, so much so that it would overcome the pockets of resistance that had frustrated previous efforts. Especially among their allies, there would be no more reason to reject working for woman’s suffrage, since the Negro’s hour had come and, with ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, was about to pass. Suffragists reasoned that it would be hard for Minnesota’s Republicans to so blatantly discriminate in favor of black men, a mere abstraction who so few of the party leaders actually knew let alone genuinely saw as their equal, choosing them against their own wives, sisters, and daughters. Black suffrage, in a state like Minnesota with a minuscule population of African American men, was more, in any practical sense, an act of loyalty to the Republican banner, nothing more than a symbolic gesture. The time was right for the same brave legislators who supported the joint resolution, many of whom were new to the chamber, some of whom had faced down the enemy fire of Confederate guns, to do the right thing. The time was now. The disappointments faced by Anthony, Stanton, and others in New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, would not apply here in the North Star State. After all, it was in Minnesota that, when asked and led by state party leadership, the white men of the state did the right thing, voting before any other state since the end of the war to grant blacks the right to vote. With friends in the legislature, the suffragists of Minnesota began to mount a new campaign.
On February 10, the St. Paul Press bitingly reported that in the Senate, “Mr. Fridley came in with his female suffrage bill, proposing an amendment to section one, article seven. This bill is presented by a petition which contained the autographs of 604 females and an equal number of the ‘lords of creation.’ ” It was a bill that would allow women, in this lone instance, to vote alongside men at the polls. Two days later, the editorial voice that had thundered its support of Lincoln, the Union cause, the end of slavery, and the advancement of racial political equality by extending voting rights to the black men of the state, now fumed in a prominently situated space on the front page of its February 12th edition at the dire prospects of female suffrage. The editor mockingly urged readers to look beyond the blush-inducing, puritanical pretense of separating ballots of men from those of women for the sake of modesty and propriety. “Their votes are to be deposited in separate ballot boxes. This precaution against the promiscuous association of the sexes in the ballot box is taken doubtless in the interest of morality, but if the bill passes, as we see no reason why it should not, this provision will seem useful purpose in indicating the precise number of women who deign to go into politics.”
With this issue out of the way, the editor sought to discredit women’s suffrage as a political boon to “the Democratic element in their midst.” He essentially was waving the bloody shirt. “It seems at first sight a little odd that some of the most zealous champions of female suffrage are Democrats, possibly in some instances in the notion that a little affectation of zeal for the extension of political rights in that direction will serve to atone in some measure for their universal and implacable opposition to their extension to colored men.” To prove his point of Democratic hypocrisy, he looked to the west. “The Legislature of Wyoming, which recently passed a law giving suffrage to the women in that Territory, is almost wholly Democratic, of the ultra-rebel variety; and in their pious haste, says a Democratic paper, to enfranchise the daughters of Eve, they have created a ludicrous blunder of admitting black women to suffrage, while leaving colored men out in the void. We don’t see anything ludicrous about this for it is in strict accordance with Democratic precedent—it having been the established custom of Democrats, from time immemorial, to bestow their favors exclusively on colored women.” The editor was clearly enjoying himself.
More important, as he continued, Democrats had no compunction in corrupting ladies by forcing them to inhabit polling stations where the worse kind of men and women lounged about intoxicated in the vapors of unrefinement. “In the event of women being allowed to vote, the probabilities are that the great masses of the intelligent, decent, modest women of the country would shrink, with a mutual instinct for modesty, from the rude contact with Democratic rowdies and loafers to which they would be exposed by going to the polls, which the coarse and brazen Amazons who grace the vicious haunts or enclaves from which a large proportion of Democratic voters come, would swarm in eager crowds, as they swarm to hangings and fires, to await the Democratic votes.”
In any case, preached the editor, it was too late to reverse the trying course of events—Fridley’s bill. All that was left was to endure the tempest that was sure to come when “the loudest of the loud” lady champions of suffrage will soon descend on Minnesota. “[The bill] would ensure us next fall of Pentecostal visitations of the female stump orators from the Women’s Rights Association. Mrs. Stanton, the best politician of them all, would sail in on us benignly, to thaw with her gracious and genial presence the cold of the multitude; Mrs. Livermore, the Juno Titans of the Female Olympus, would unsheathe her lace-edged thunderbolts upon us and make things rattle again; the lovely Anna Dickinson would bedew with her graceful opulence of tears and diamonds, the tender plant of female suffrage of which the great Manomin County Reformer have soon the precious and immortal seed.” The editor was now ridiculing the bill’s sponsor. “The bashful Fridley smothered with kisses and crinoline, would fly repentant, disheveled and disgusted from the silken suffocation of his own glory to the remote seclusion of some monastery in his own great kingdom of Manomin, after the pattern of Charles the Fifth, to mediate on the vanity of ambition, and resolve never to mention female suffrage again as long as Heaven should spare his virtuous lips.”
Abram McCormack Fridley, the sponsor of the bill, seemed in some ways to be a Minnesota version of George Francis Train. He was a Democrat, and the only legislator of his party who, on the final vote, would remain in support of the measure, just as in 1869 he had supported the women’s suffrage bill and property bill. And he was a man whose history conveyed one with grandiose sensibilities. “Major” Fridley—the rank came from having served as Indian agent to the Winnebago in Long Prairie, and a delegate to the Constitution Convention in 1857—was a Democrat in politics at a time when Abraham Lincoln was appearing on the national scene and when the Republican Party was rapidly rising to power in Minnesota. The “King of Manomin” as he was sometimes derisively called, kept a firm rein on his “subjects,” repressed periodic rebellions in the county, and dominated the ballot box. So effective was his sway that when the presidential elections were held, he saw to it that Lincoln did not receive a single vote in Manomin County; and he continued, even during the war years, to support the Democratic Party. His zeal inflamed much ill feeling, and the antislavery leaders and the antislavery papers went after him rigorously, fomenting preposterous stories that his “secession tendencies” would propel him into leading Manomin County into the Confederacy. The stories were soon found to be baseless and he supported the Union effort for the duration of the war.
His grandiosity notwithstanding, and acknowledging his county to be “a white elephant,” by 1868 he had begun lobbying to annex Manomin to Anoka County, which required an amendment to the state constitution and approval from the voters of the state. But before that could happen, the legislature had to approve a bill to submit the question to the voters, just as it had done with black suffrage, as he was attempting to do now with women’s suffrage. For three years, the old firebrand Democrat failed to marshal the necessary votes within a Republican-dominated legislature—until 1868. In the midst of the successful campaign for black suffrage, the mood regarding attaching Manomin and Anoka Counties shifted. Writing for the Post, Stearns, by now an ally of Fridley and no doubt acting in a quid pro quo, argued for annexation: “Manomin is said to embrace less than a township of land, and contains only some 20 to 30 voters. Such a frivolous county corporation ought, of course, to be abolished.” In 1869, the referendum to dissolve Manomin and formally attach it to Anoka County in 1870 was approved by the voters. Nine years later, Abram Fridley, still a member of the Legislature, watched colleagues rename Manomin after himself.
Was Fridley in fact Minnesota’s version of George Francis Train? To begin with, Fridley was not a firebrand racist as Train was, nor did he appear to champion women’s suffrage to exploit tensions between suffragists and the Republican Party, as Train had attempted to do in the Kansas campaign in 1866. Fridley’s support for women’s rights seemed true since he had voted in favor of suffrage and the property bill during the previous session. Knowing how little support for suffrage there was within the Republican caucus, the party’s supporters of suffrage understood that Fridley’s leadership might draw Democrats to the column. But why did he become the bill’s sponsor since he had never before sponsored this type of legislation? Though his support of the measure seemed quite sincere, it was clear that he also deemed it to be good politics. The leading opinion maker in Anoka County, the Anoka Union, endorsed female suffrage. Likewise, the women’s suffrage lobby, whose organization was more formidable in 1870 than ever before, could prove to be a powerful ally. Ultimately, Senator Joseph Leonard of Rochester, co-owner and editor of the Rochester Post and an ally of Stearns, committed the support of his caucus for the Manomin deal in return for Fridley’s leadership for women’s suffrage.
Despite the efforts of opposing members to frustrate Fridley’s effort to shepherd along H.F. No. 123, as it was referenced, bringing it at last before its third reading, the last procedural step before a vote could be taken. Representative John Gilman “moved a call of the House” and all but one member—Charles Stewart was ill—arrived for the debate. A. E. Hall rose to explain his vote and in doing so, characterized the thinking of most of his House colleagues. He said he voted against the measure in 1868 and was still opposed to it on principle, but he was now willing to support the measure so that the question could come before the people, though he intended to vote against it at the polls. The twenty-five-year old lawmaker William Jones made light of the moment, noting that he hoped the ladies who looked on (the Press noted that a few were present) would remember that he was a bachelor. John McDonald said, “I voted both ways (laughter) but on the final vote, voted against it.” But like Hall, he declared that he would vote for the bill, to bring it before the people, and vote against it at the polls. “The question will no doubt be a disturbing element in our politics unless we submit it to the people, although I am against the principle.” The yeas and nays were called.
On February 15, H.F. No. 123 passed in the House with a vote of 33 to 13. After the votes were tallied the Press commented about the pleased constituents looking on from the gallery: “Several ladies were present when the vote was taken. Mr. Fridley’s female constituents, in return for his patriotic effort in their behalf, propose, when the session closes, to welcome him with open arms, and an aesthetic ovation of toast and tea.” Despite the hyperbolic disapproval of the Press, the manner in which the measure was addressed appeared relatively decorous. Such was not the case in the Senate. As the Press reported on February 19, “Fridley’s Female Suffrage bill was treated with levity by the Committee of Elections, who were severely rebuked by Senator Leonard who is a convert to the new reform.”
Senator Benjamin Sprague of Mower County, a married farmer and chair of the Committee of Elections, reported back to the chamber that the bill should be returned to the Committee of Retrenchment and Reform. Though it had been retrieved from that committee and sent instead to the Committee of Elections, Sprague now sought to return it to the Committee of Retrenchment, the very committee that the body had earlier rejected and where bills were known to languish. In light of this, Sprague’s motion appeared to be an effort to maliciously slip women’s suffrage into a procedural morass. Senator Leonard rose to take exception to the maneuver, saying, “It could have but one meaning: that to make jest of this subject.” He wanted to vote on the bill. Tampering with it through what he viewed to be needless procedural machinations only trivialized the principle of the bill. “It should be treated with the gravity which the importance of the subject demanded.” Avoiding the quagmire Sprague was determined to impose, Leonard moved that the bill receive its second reading and go to the Committee of the Whole. The motion was adopted.
During the evening debate, senators offered several obfuscating amendments to the bill, but they were all voted down, keeping the language in its original form. Republican Senator Edson R. Smith, a married merchant from Le Sueur and chair of the Banks and Banking Committee, moved to strike the portion of the bill allowing female suffrage to vote upon the proposition. What followed was a spirited debate among Senators Leonard, Waite, Republican lumberman and chair of Ways and Means Curtis H. Pettit of Minneapolis, lawyer-farmer David Buell from Houston County, Democratic lawyer James N. Castle from Stillwater, and Republican miller Dane E. King from Greenleaf, all of whom, except Castle, were married. After nearly two hours they resolved the debate with “an almost unanimous vote.” Republican lumberman and chair of elections Josiah Crooker from Owatonna then offered an amendment to the bill providing the constitution should be so amended if it appeared that the majority of “the females present and voting upon the proposition voted in the favor.” The motion was lost. Finally, senators recommended it be read a third and last time. Senator Luther Baxter, a lawyer from Chaska and chair of the Committee of the Whole, then read the bill the third time and was about to put it up for a motion to vote when, as another stalling tactic, a motion to adjourn was made and approved. Two days later, however, the Senate returned to the bill.
In debate, Senator King argued that he was “opposed to female suffrage in the common acceptance of the term, and at the same time voting, as I shall, submit this question to the people, it is but just to myself that I should explain this apparent inconsistency in my course.” It was inconceivable to him that the women champions for suffrage could be ladies, and it was this belief that made the bill, for him, unacceptable. “It is to the credit of the sex that no woman of culture or refinement has asked for the right of suffrage. It is left for the strong-minded Amazons of the sex, with a law of our own sex, and whose motives are, perhaps, not really understood, to urge the adoption of this amendment upon the people, and as far as observation has taught us anything of this class of persons, it has shown them to be examples of social unhappiness, either as wives or husbands, as mothers or fathers.” He then closed with a heartfelt recitation of a poem that seemed, to him, right for the occasion: the poem began “I believe woman’s work to be,”
Leading little children,
And blessing manhood’s years,
Showing to the sinful,
As God’s forgiveness cheers,
Scattering sweet roses,
Along another’s path,
Smiling by the wayside,
Content with what she hath.
Letting fall her own tears,
Where only God can see,
Wiping off another’s
With tender sympathy.
Learning by experience,
Teaching by example,
Yearning for the gateway,
Golden, pearly ample,
This is woman’s work.
After more debate, the question blessedly was called for a vote and the measure was narrowly approved, 12 to 9. Highlighting the duplicitous role Democrats played in the vote as well as her sister Republicans who she knew worried about the implications of this bill on the party’s legacy, Stearns reported optimistically, “The female suffrage bill passed the Senate last week by a bare majority vote. Of the twelve votes for it, six were Democrats and six Republicans, being less than half of the Republicans, and all but two Democrats.” It was thought, she wrote, that Democrats voting for the bill would later call for reconsideration, at which time the bill could be defeated, “but no such slaughter had occurred as of this writing, and there is yet every reason to believe that female suffrage will be one of the issues of next fall’s campaign. Look for Susan B. and Anna S., et al. omne genus.”
A reporter for the St. Paul Press saw it differently. Endorsing Senator King’s view of the bill as “one of the greatest follies and humbugs of the ages,” the reporter saw the majority vote merely “as the same principle that impatient mothers gave sweetments to impudent children, with the view of making them so sick that they will never cry for sweetments again.”
Frances Russell, ignoring the Press’s condescension, and writing under the name of “Faith Rochester of Silver Lake, Minnesota,” was wary after hearing about the Senate deliberations, enough to write sarcastically, “You see what our legislature has done? I like it. Members were begged to vote against the ‘Female Suffrage bill,’ because there was no strong demand for it from Minnesota women. But why should they? Must women go down on their knees . . . for that which is unjustly withheld from them.” Distrustful of the motives of many of the senators who approved the measure that included the provision to allow women to vote on the question, “Rochester” added,
Our legislators have done their simple duty. Now if the people vote down the amendment which proposes to enfranchise the women of the State the Legislators can tell us, “thou canst not say I did it.” Yet it is the intention of many who voted for the bill (and even of its author, I am told) to make it defeat itself, for the bill provided that women may vote on the question, and it was fondly hoped by some of our ennobling lawmakers that the amendment will be voted down by the women themselves, and so forever set at rest the vexed question of Woman Suffrage.
The reference to Representative Fridley was particularly noteworthy, for “Rochester” had simply stated the obvious: duplicity was the very nature of politics when women’s suffrage was at issue. In fact, Fridley sponsored the bill in name only. In none of the debates that followed did he argue on its behalf, let alone get caught either in the crosshairs of fellow Democrats or of the Pioneer. Indeed, he stood to gain (in the form of annexation of his “kingdom”) with minimal political loss, and everyone, it seemed, understood the situation. Fridley was permitted to perch safely on the catbird seat.
He, like so many of his colleagues in both the House and Senate, apparently felt that because the men of the house so clearly rejected women’s suffrage, so too would their womenfolk, and this, as “Rochester” had written, would forever set at rest the vexed question of Woman Suffrage. “Innocent souls,” she called them. She reported sitting quite amused during the debate as she listened to suffrage foe Senator King give his overwrought recitation of “Woman’s Work”: “If the Senator who repeated that as part of his argument against woman suffrage, saw us laughing at it while he read it, he would probably be puzzled to know where the joke lies, but I hope he will yet see.”
“Rochester” then got serious, acknowledging that Fridley’s motives were in the larger sense unimportant: “The vote, regardless of the intent of the legislator, now posed the best opportunity Minnesota women ever had for the right to vote, and they were not ready to wage a statewide campaign.” This new state of affairs required momentous effort. “I hardly dared hope that the Senate would concur with the House in the passage of this bill, we seem so unprepared for a vote of the people on such an important amendment to the State Constitution. Yet, I tossed up my cup and cried ‘Huzzah!’ when I learned that the bill had passed the Senate by 12 ayes and 9 nays”:
It almost scares me now to think I did set up a shout, for we are no means “out of the woods” yet—indeed, we have hardly entered the woods. It is no easy task to canvass a state like this—Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, French, Bohemians—whole settlements of foreign-born citizens, and each with a vote as powerful as anybody’s. How shall we reach the minds and consciences of all those people?
But she also realized that the foreign-born voters were not the only group who needed mobilizing, admitting unease that the “American” women voters could very well defeat the proposition:
If the men alone were to vote on this question, next fall, I believe we could carry it, but I am more than half afraid that the women will defeat it. It seems so hard for many simple-minded women to think of voting as anything more than just dropping a ballot into a box at the election. They can’t see that there would be any pleasure in that, and they have enough to do at home. What do they care about “the tariff” and such matters? These are they who think “women can’t understand politics and guess men could make good enough laws without our help. . . . It would take time to educate most of those people into a proper understanding of the word ‘politics.’ ”
In this, “Rochester” reflected the most fundamental task confronting any kind of reform effort—persuading people—men and women alike—who were complaisant with the familiarity of an unequal status quo to embrace the unfamiliarity of egalitarian change, assuming a role in society that had never before been seen, a role that for some would seem quite unnerving, quite inappropriate, quite unnatural. This would be the work of the suffrage club—men and women, but mainly women—who through their actions would articulate the values and embody the image of the new American woman.
Stearns’s work, initially in her hometown of Rochester, and Colburn’s work in Champlin, both remote towns at this date, were unlikely to be known to many people in the smaller community of Silver Lake. “I suppose,” “Rochester” wrote, “there is yet hardly an organization for Woman Suffrage in the state. Come over and help us—Do!—you of the East who have leisure, and means and hearts and brains for the work. I doubt not there are Minnesota women and men who can do excellent service, but the time is so short!” She concluded with a note of hope. “If victory does not come to Minnesota, friends of equal rights, next fall, it will probably be because we are not prepared for it, but I believe there is a possibility of victory.” “Now,” reported the Daily Pioneer after the Senate vote on the suffrage bill, “[all that was] needed [was] the approval of the Governor.” It did not come.