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Minnesota Female Suffrage Bill, 1870

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Governor Horace Austin

Official portrait of Governor Horace Austin, 1873. Artist: Carl Gutherz.

Minnesota's early woman suffragists endured many setbacks in their fight for the vote. Perhaps none was as disappointing as Governor Horace Austin's veto of the 1870 female suffrage bill—the first to pass both the House and Senate. His controversial decision appeared to defy the state constitution.

Minnesota women began to pressure the state legislature in the 1860s to amend Section 1 of Article IV of the Constitution of the State of Minnesota to give women the right to vote. On January 11, 1866, Representative Anson R. Hayden presented the first known petition for woman suffrage in the House of Representatives for Eva J. Spaulding and others. The petition made little progress beyond its referral to the joint committee on amendments to the constitution.

In 1867, Representative John Seboski offered another petition with 200 signatures to House members for review. The petition stalled after it was referred to a special committee of representatives.

The next year, the legislature considered a petition from Mary A. Graves with 350 signatures, presented by Representative Alpheus B. Colton. The petition asked that the word "male" be removed as a qualification for voting. The committee on elections recommended that it be carried forward, but the request was tabled.

The tide seemed to turn when a fourth petition bearing 605 signatures reached the House in February 1869. In spite of some legislators treating it as a joke, it resulted in House File 91, the first bill for female suffrage in Minnesota. Representative John Lathrop of Rochester introduced the bill on February 8. A motion to table the bill indefinitely failed, and the bill advanced. On February 24, the legislature invited women to speak, and Mrs. Addie L. Ballou of St. Paul stepped up to address the House. In spite of objections and the absence of several representatives, a vote was taken. The bill suffered defeat by one vote, twenty-two to twenty-one. Efforts to reconsider the bill failed and it never reached the Senate.

In 1870, the legislature considered two petitions with a total of 750 signatures. This resulted in House File 123 (HF 123), introduced by Representative Abram M. Fridley on February 9. The bill extended suffrage to all citizens, male and female, aged twenty-one and over. It included immigrants and Native Americans who agreed to live by US laws and customs and who adopted the English language.

The bill passed the House on February 15, thirty-three to thirteen. It passed the Senate on February 24 with a vote of twelve to nine. Several legislators publicly admitted that they voted for the measure in their respective legislative bodies but would not support it at the polls. They wanted the people to decide.

Minnesota's constitution requires that any bill for a constitutional amendment that is passed by a legislative majority be put to a public vote. The 1870 bill clearly stated this: "The proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people of the several districts of this State for their approval or rejection, at the next general election." Both men and women who met all necessary qualifications would be permitted to vote on the amendment, although women's votes would be placed in "separate and distinct ballot boxes."

The bill reached Governor Austin's desk for his signature. Recognized as being pro-suffrage himself, he surprised supporters by vetoing it. Senator William Lochren of Rochester protested that Austin could not legally veto a constitutional amendment bill and declared that the question of female suffrage would be decided at the polls the following November.

The vote never happened.

Austin cited the illegality of the bill as the reason for the veto and the blocked public vote. Under Minnesota's constitutional law, women could not yet legally vote. The bill had no authority to enable them to vote until such authority was granted through constitutional amendment. In his personal correspondence, he claimed that he would not have vetoed the bill if it had called out the women's votes as advisory only, not as legal and binding. Austin asserted that the author of the bill intended the measure to fail, and he indicated a desire to see a stronger bill in the future that had a better chance of success.

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"Alas! Alas!" St. Cloud Journal, March 4, 1869.

154.J.14.4F
Records of Governor Horace Austin, 1869–1879
State Archives, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gov020.xml
Description: Letter from Edwin S. Williams to Governor Horace Austin, March 8, 1870. Miscellaneous correspondence, January–December 1870, and other materials relating Horace Austin's tenure as governor.

P2854
Horace Austin and family papers, 1857–1953
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Letters to Mrs. W. C. Dodge dated March 14, 1970, and April 43, 1870. Correspondence, photographs, reports, clippings, appointments, and financial and legal papers concerning Austin and his family.

"Bills Passed." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 16, 1870.

Constitution of the State of Minnesota. Office of the Revisor of Statutes.
https://www.revisor.mn.gov/constitution/

107.C.18.10F
House and Senate bills (legislative set), 1868
State Archives, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gr00675.xml
Description: Bills from the 1868 legislative session, including Minnesota House of Representative File Numbers 2–234 and Minnesota Senate File Numbers 1–274.

"Items." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, March 4, 1870.

Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Minnesota, 1866. St. Paul: M. J. Clum, Printer, 1866, 1867.

Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Minnesota, 1868. Minneapolis: Tribune Printing Company, 1868.

Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Minnesota. St. Paul: Press Printing Company, 1869, 1870.

Journal of the Senate, State of Minnesota. St. Paul: M. J. Clum, Printer, 1866, 1867.

Journal of the Senate, State of Minnesota, 1868. Minneapolis: Tribune Printing Company, 1868.

Journal of the Senate, State of Minnesota. St. Paul: Press Printing Company, 1869, 1870.

"Lecture To-Night." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 16, 1870.

"Legislative Topics." Mower County Register, February 24, 1870.

Minneapolis Daily Tribune, March 11, 1870.

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Minnesota Legislators Past & Present.
https://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/

"Minnesota Legislature. Female Suffrage." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, January 28, 1870.

"Minnesota Legislature. Female Suffrage." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 10, 1870.

"Minnesota Legislature. Female Suffrage." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 25, 1870.

"Minnesota Legislature. House of Representatives." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 16, 1870.

"Minnesota Legislature." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, January 26, 1870.
"Not Signed." Freeborn County Standard, March 10, 1870.
"'Sarkastical' Legislation." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, February 24, 1870.

Stuhler, Barbara. Gentle Warriors: Clara Ueland and the Minnesota Struggle for Woman Suffrage. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995.

"Telegraphic!" Minneapolis Daily Tribune, January 27, 1870

"Twelve Bills Vetoed by Governor Austin." Minneapolis Daily Tribune, March 10, 1870.

[Untitled.] Federal Union, April 16, 1870.

[Untitled]. Rochester Post, February 26, 1870.

[Untitled]. Stillwater Republican, March 8, 1870.

"Vetoed." St. Cloud Journal, Thursday, March 10, 1870.

"The West." Stillwater Republican, March 22, 1870.

Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840–1920). National Women's History Museum.
http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/woman-suffrage-timeline-18401920

Related Images

Governor Horace Austin
Governor Horace Austin
Anson R. Hayden
Anson R. Hayden
Governor William Marshall and members of the Minnesota House of Representatives
Governor William Marshall and members of the Minnesota House of Representatives
Governor William Marshall and members of the Minnesota House of Representatives
Governor William Marshall and members of the Minnesota House of Representatives
1870 State Senate of Minnesota
1870 State Senate of Minnesota
Abram M. Fridley
Abram M. Fridley
Members of the Minnesota Legislature
Members of the Minnesota Legislature
William Lochren
William Lochren
Oil-on-canvas portrait of Harriet Bishop. Painted c.1880 by Andrew Falkenshield; based on an engraving of Bishop made in 1860.
Oil-on-canvas portrait of Harriet Bishop. Painted c.1880 by Andrew Falkenshield; based on an engraving of Bishop made in 1860.
Martha George Rogers Ripley
Martha George Rogers Ripley
Addie L. Ballou
Addie L. Ballou
Sarah Burger Stearns, c. 1893
Sarah Burger Stearns, c. 1893

Turning Point

In 1870, both the Minnesota House of Representatives and the state senate pass a female suffrage bill—the first to be approved by both legislative bodies.

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.

January 11, 1866

What may have been the first petition for woman suffrage is introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives on behalf of Eva J. Spaulding. It is referred to the joint committee on amendments to the constitution but goes no further.

January 16, 1867

A petition is presented to the legislature by Representative John Seboski on behalf of Sarah Burger Stearns and others, asking for an amendment striking the word "male" from Section 1, Article 7, of the state constitution. No bill results.

January 23 1868

Mary A. Graves brings a petition with 350 signatures to the state House of Representatives, requesting that "male" be removed from the state constitution as a qualification for voting. Referred to the committee on elections, it is tabled.

July 9, 1868

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

February 8, 1869

The first woman suffrage bill is introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives. It is defeated by one vote, twenty-two to twenty-one.

December 10, 1869

Women in Wyoming Territory become the first in the US to be granted full suffrage.

January 25, 1870

Senator Henry Chester Waite of Stearns County presents a petition with 150 signatures in favor of woman suffrage.

January 27, 1870

Representative Abram McCormick Fridley of Becker presents a petition with 600 signatures to the Minnesota House of Representatives, asking for an amendment to the state constitution and removing "male" as a voting qualification.

February 3, 1870

The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified. It specifies that the vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States for any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Gender is excluded.

February 9, 1870

Representative Fridley submits a bill to amend Section 1, Article 7 of the state constitution to include women voters.

February 15, 1870

The Minnesota House of Representatives passes the female suffrage bill, thirty-three to thirteen.

February 24, 1870

The Minnesota State Senate votes to pass the female suffrage bill, twelve to nine.

March 3, 1870

The female suffrage bill lands on Governor Horace Austin's desk.

March 9, 1870

Governor Austin vetoes the female suffrage bill, citing an illegality in the language of the bill.

March 25, 1870

Senator William Lochren of St. Anthony publicly contests the governor's veto, declaring that, because it is a constitutional amendment passed by legislative majority, it must be submitted to the people for a vote. The public vote never happens.