Legislator looks to memorialize South St. Paul voting history

submitted photo Marguerite Newburgh was the first woman to vote in the U.S. after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, as seen in this photo from the Aug. 27, 1920, edition of the Minneapolis Journal. Rep. Anne Claflin is seeking funding for a monument to memorialize the historic vote, which took place in South St. Paul almost 100 years ago.

Almost 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women in the U.S. the right to vote, a state legislator is looking to memorialize the role women in South St. Paul played in voting rights history.

State Rep. Anne Claflin, District 54A, has two bills in the House that seek funding for a monument at Lawshe Park in South St. Paul, where by a historical quirk the first vote was cast by a woman in the U.S. in 1920. 

Claflin’s bill is co-authored by Reps. Rick Hansen and Todd Lippert, with a companion bill in the Senate whose authors include Sens. Matt Klein and Karla Bigham.


Funding support

Claflin said she has two House bills seeking to establish the monument: HF 1355, which was introduced Feb. 18 and is included in the bonding bill, and HF 2029, which seeks funding through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. She said she thinks her second bill is now dead since HF 1355 is in the bonding bill.

The bill requests $300,000 in bonding, which Claflin said is the number South St. Paul came up with as an estimated cost for a statue based on the cost of similar bronze monuments such as that of Mary Tyler Moore in downtown Minneapolis and various others around Target Field.

“It would also cover not just the monument, but designing it, constructing it. There’s no design yet for what it looks like,” Claflin said. 

The proposed site of the monument is Lawshe Park, which is the site of the old city hall where that first woman’s vote took place.

South St. Paul Mayor Jimmy Francis said looking around the state, there aren’t too many statues that honor women, adding it’s an important moment in history to remember.

“Our young girls and boys need that reminder of the past to inspire them to go out and do great things in the future, and statues are erected for that purpose,” he said.

Claflin said there has been a lot of excitement from colleagues and peers, because the monument connects them to a history that is not well known.

“So many people were surprised that after the 19th Amendment was ratified, the first election held the next day was in South St. Paul,” Claflin said. “I studied the women’s suffrage movement when I was in elementary school, and never heard anything about Minnesota’s role in women’s right to vote.”


A place of history

Lois Glewwe, a South St. Paul historian, said several women in South St. Paul were active in the suffrage movement in Minnesota. When the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919, ratification by the states followed, with Minnesota adopting the amendment on Sept. 8, 1919. 

Glewwe said Congress accepted ratification and enacted the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920. 

South St. Paul was scheduled to have a special water bond vote the morning of Aug. 27, 1920. 

“They had posted notice of the election on Aug. 6, too early for them to have predicted that women would have the vote by Aug. 27,” Glewwe said in her book, “South St. Paul: A Brief History.”

“As it happened, however, South St. Paul women were ready and waiting and 87 local women became the first to vote legally in the nation when they entered their polling places at six o’clock that morning.”

Glewwe said that a Marguerite Newburgh was apparently the first woman to legally vote that morning in August, 1920. 


Next steps

Claflin said the next step for the bonding bill is to be voted on in the House before it goes to the Senate. The bill will likely not come back in the same shape as it left the House, and a conference committee will work out what stays in the bonding bill.

“I don’t know how likely this is to actually make it through — I have my fingers crossed because it is such a unique piece of history,” she said, urging folks to contact their legislators so they know what’s important to them.

Claflin also has a bill looking to fund a statewide event around the Sept. 8 anniversary of Minnesota passing the 19th Amendment, which would run through August 2020, for when it was adopted nationwide. The League of Women Voters would work with the Minnesota Historical Society to make sure the celebration is inclusive across the state.

The history is more complicated than passing the 19th Amendment, Claflin said.

“I understand that this didn’t let everyone vote. This didn’t let all women vote, not all people could vote,” she said. “There was still a lot of racial discrimination and we’re still fighting for voting rights for people [today].”


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburligname@lillienews.com

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