Rochester women paved the way to power through organization and education


Stearns also had an ally in the publisher of the Rochester Post, where she wrote and published articles in favor of women’s suffrage. Her articles highlighted the daily adversities of women in Minnesota, while letting them know that the movement toward suffrage and women’s rights was growing, amplified by her and others.

In 1867, she and Mary J. Colburn gained the first hearing before a legislative committee with a bill that would give women the right to vote by removing the word “man” from existing statutes. He failed to pass the committee by vote.

Although effective only as an artifact of the past, gendered language continues to be the norm in civic documents. The city of Rochester’s own charter only removed its gender language in 2017, thanks to people like Mayo High School junior Lea Folpe.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified. Black men got the right to vote. The women did not. A schism in the movement for universal suffrage occurred.

A Rochester Post article of February 3, 1866 credited to Stearns says, “We see no reason why color is not as good a qualification for voting as sex, or why a woman is not so competent in choosing a member of the Legislative Assembly. like a nigger.

Simply put, the men who made up the radical Republican-led Congress after the Civil War saw black men as a higher priority in the nation’s multi-tiered disenfranchisement system.

“These [suffragists] are women who already had access to power,” says Wayne Gannaway, executive director of the Olmsted County History Center. “It was one of the things that Frederick Douglass said, [that] it would be great if white women could have the right to vote, but currently no black people have the right to vote. White women can at least pressure their husbands, brothers, etc.

Stearns persisted. She organized the Rochester Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and co-founded the Minnesota Women Suffrage Association in 1881, then served as its president until 1883. She was also a board member of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1876 to 1885.

These organizations were vital connection points for the suffrage movement.

“Many of the women involved in the suffrage movement were also involved in all kinds of good deeds in the community. During that period, there were so many kinds of women’s clubs,” Caucutt says.

Stearns would have rubbed shoulders with women as a rural powerhouse and future Farm Bureau vice president Jesse Pridemore, who was known for repairing a city road with a team of wagons led by women in the 1810s; Rochester’s first female minister, Eliza Tepper Wilks of the Universalist Church; Amelie Witherstein, who was elected to the Rochester school board in 1875 (she also happened to be the grandmother of the Withers family, owners of the Post-Bulletin). Same Susan B. Anthony came here to Rochester, to speak on Christmas Day, 1877. (You can read more about these figures and their connections at Olmsted County History Centerthe current exhibition, “The advancement of women’s suffrage. »

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