ST. PAUL, Minn.–It’s not part of a three-day weekend and no fireworks were launched to indicate the importance of the date. In fact it was widely ignored by most Americans.
However, Women’s Equality Day was observed here August 26–on a Saturday, true enough, part of a regular weekend and probably no one received even an extra minute, let alone day, off from work. Nevertheless, it was celebrated.
A goodly sized crowd of 150 gathered at the state Capitol’s expansive lawn to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution giving women the right to vote in national elections and to dedicate the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial.
As if to reinforce the creators’ concept of the continuum of progress toward women’s political equality, the audience was laced with women candidates in the upcoming Minnesota primary. In attendance were Rebecca Yanisch, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate nomination; state Rep. Betty McCollum and long-time women’s activist Cathie Harnett, both candidates for the 4th Congressional District’s Democratic nomination. The Independence Party’s endorsed candidate in the contest for this open seat in Congress, Pam Ellison, also was at the dedication.
A group of prominent state legislators, many of whom helped secure the funding for the memorial, attended, as did retired Justice Rosalie E. Wahl, the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The only tribute on the Capitol’s grounds that honors any woman, this monument consists of a garden with cast-aluminum signs that look like metallic newspaper pages. Each one relates events on certain key national and local dates in the 72-year march to suffrage.
The memorial is crowned by a trellis with the names of 25 Minnesota women who led the movement here.
Among them is Harriet Bishop, the first school teacher in St. Paul and a life-long human rights activist and Clara Hampson Ueland, the last president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and the first president the state’s League of Women Voters.
Creation of the memorial took significantly less time that obtaining the right to vote. A League of Women Voters committee created to plan observances of the 75th anniversary of woman suffrage determined, under leadership of historian and long-time feminist leader Barbara Stuhler, that a woman’s memorial should join the carved and cast monuments to men’s achievements.
The committee worked with the then Lt. Gov. Joanne Benson, to sponsor a design competition.
“Garden of Time: Landscape of Change” won and it is now complete, planted in flowers and grasses native to the state. The garden changes with the seasons. Spring bulbs give way to summer wildflowers. The colors echo the movement: whites, yellows, dashes of green and purple blooms. Because the memorial is alive and responds to its environment, it makes tangible the concept of growth and change, reflecting the dynamics of the suffrage movement.
Funding for the $500,000 project came from the state legislature and private donations.
At the ceremonies Saturday, Benson’s successor, current Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk, a former elementary school teacher, presided at the dedication, pointed out that the horizontal lines of the garden’s trellis trace the life spans of the women named there–only a handful of whom lived to see the vote secured for women.
A book of biographical essays, “The Privilege for Which We Struggled: Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Minnesota,” provides details about the 25 women named and is available through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Besides the league and the women’s history community, the project was supported by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, the organization of pro-choice women’s groups.
Their 25 foremothers honored by name at the memorial are: Harriet Bishop, Fanny Fligelman Brin, Myrtle Cain, Mary Jackman Colburn, Sarah Tarleton Colvin, Gratia Countryman, Nellie Griswold Francis, Elizabeth Hunt Harrison, Ethel Edgerton Hurd, Nanny Mattson Jaeger, Bertha Berglin Moller, Julia Bullard Nelson, Emily Gilman Noyes, Anna Dickie Olesen, Mabeth Hurd Paige, Martha Rogers Ripley, Maria Sanford, Josephine Schain, Josephine Sarles Simpson, Sarah Burger Stearns, Maud Conkey Stockwell, Jane Grey Swisshelm, Clara Hampson Ueland and Alice Ames Winter.
Glenda Crank Holste is a Twin Cities journalist who has covered social and economic issues for the last 10 years. Her grandmother was a suffragist.