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Movers and Shakers in The Suffrage Movement from Manitoba to North Dakota



This display was commissioned by the International Peace Garden and was exhibited there first in 2016. The display was put together by David McInnes and Linda McDowell, both of Winnipeg.

The side being displayed currently intends to show the similarities between the woman suffrage campaign of Manitoba (suffrage won in 1916) and North Dakota (suffrage won in 1917). Although these campaigns were separated by an international boundary, the two areas shared many characteristics - both geographical and political.

Women in the American and Canadian western areas were the first in their respective countries to have their voting rights acknowledged. Both Manitoba and North Dakota suffragists were supported by temperance and progressive farmer groups. On both sides of the border, women had to contend with wily legislators who tried to block suffrage legislation. The women in Manitoba and North Dakota tended to have similar backgrounds and professions - teachers, doctors and journalists. Some of the famous women leaders of the two areas are shown in the  display with Margret Benedictsson as a link. She was born in Iceland but lived and worked in North Dakota and Manitoba, a pioneer in woman suffrage. Both suffrage groups were successful earlier than their eastern countrywomen who had been active in suffrage campaigns for a much longer time.

There were differences, too. Many single women in the American west were able to get Homestead land while Canadian women (married or single) had a much more difficult time to get the same rights. The Manitoba campaign was the most colourful in Canada while the North Dakota group got much less national press. Manitoba women were the first in Canada (1916) to gain voting rights but Wyoming women were the first in the United States, getting the vote in 1869. Indigenous women got the vote earlier in the North Dakota than they did in Manitoba. None of the North Dakota suffragists achieved the national fame in the United States that Nellie McClung achieved in Canada.

The women and men who fought for woman suffrage in Manitoba and North Dakota are a fascinating group of characters and neither area has really given them the attention they deserve.