MOORHEAD — On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote and sent it to the states for ratification. Minnesota voted yes a few months later on Sept. 8, with North Dakota following soon after on Dec. 1.

Although the United States didn’t ratify the amendment until Aug. 18, 1920, each of these dates serve as milestones in the long journey toward women’s suffrage. To celebrate the centennial of the momentous process, the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County and League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley have teamed up to host a Suffrage Social from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, at the Comstock House, 506 Eighth St. S., Moorhead, with a ceremony, ice cream, drinks, lawn games and house tours.

The 6 p.m. ceremony includes a reading of “I Want to Vote,” a speech written by Clara Dillon Darrow, a notable Fargo suffragist in the early 1900s; a presentation on the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley by Vice President Ashley Ladbury Hrichena; and a keynote by Minnesota State University Moorhead sociology professor and Moorhead City Council member Dr. Deborah White.

The social launches a series of celebrations the two organizations will host in the coming year leading up to the nationwide centennial in 2020. Markus Krueger, programming director at the HCSCC, says raising awareness of the process allows people to “live history in real time.”

“All Americans need to be more engaged in democracy and to appreciate things like being able to vote,” he says. “By celebrating the legislative process step by step, we’re able to learn more about our government and about the freedoms our (ancestors) fought for so we can have these responsibilities in this republic.”

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Moorhead suffragist Cornelia Probstfield Gesell stands with a Votes for Women banner. The Probstfields were one of the first families to settle in the Red River Valley. Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County / Special to The Forum
Moorhead suffragist Cornelia Probstfield Gesell stands with a Votes for Women banner. The Probstfields were one of the first families to settle in the Red River Valley. Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County / Special to The Forum

HCSCC Director of Operations Emily Kulzer adds that many people today “take voting for granted,” and events like the Suffrage Social educate citizens on the importance of their civic duty in local, regional and national elections.

This is also a central tenet of the League of Women Voters, a national nonpartisan political organization founded in 1920 to “help over 20 million women carry out their new responsibility as voters,” according to its website. Currently, its mission is to encourage informed and active participation in government, work to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influence public policy through education and advocacy for all people, not just women.

Ashley Ladbury Hrichena, vice president of the local League of Women Voters, says voter suppression is one major issue the organization is working to dismantle, as the system is still imperfect.

“There are many people today who are being denied access to vote,” she says.

Kulzer says the local league has been instrumental in providing support, resources and background activities on the group for the Suffrage Social and upcoming celebrations.

“We came up with the idea of an ice cream social because (the League of Women Voters said) suffragists used to have ice cream socials to gather together and organize for the cause,” she adds.

In the early 1900s, many notable women from both sides of the Red River organized similar socials and raised awareness of suffrage in women’s clubs. Sarah Comstock, for example, was one of 27 members of the Moorhead Women’s Club formed in the early 1890s to gather women together and discuss economics, culture and other intellectual topics.

But as women’s suffrage gained steam, the club also served as a place for women to get civically engaged, Krueger says. The Fargo Women’s Club formed around the same time. Some local women even marched in Washington, D.C., like Mary Darrow Weible, the daughter of Clara Dillon Darrow, to make their voices heard.

Moorhead suffragist Anna Gates became the city’s first policewoman shortly after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County / Special to The Forum
Moorhead suffragist Anna Gates became the city’s first policewoman shortly after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County / Special to The Forum

Krueger says although the movement was for women’s rights, many local men were allies in the cause, like F.H. Peterson, a former Minnesota state senator, and bachelor Scandinavian farmers whose native countries had recently passed women’s suffrage laws.

“There are all of these local links,” Krueger says. “It’s interesting to see who was doing what, and how they were related to everyone else.”

Overall, Krueger says the HCSCC is excited not just to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage, but to full-on celebrate it.

“It’s really nice to be able to celebrate anniversaries (like this) because there’s nothing bad about giving women the right to vote,” he says. “This is an unequivocally great thing.”

In case of bad weather, the Suffrage Social will move to the Hjemkomst Center, 202 First Ave. N., Moorhead. Stay tuned for upcoming celebrations leading up to the August 2020 centennial at www.hcscconline.org/events.

If you go

What: Suffrage Social

When: 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, with a 6 p.m. ceremony

Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 First Ave N., Moorhead

Info: Free and open to the public

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.