A historical marker has been installed on the lawn of the Grand Forks County Courthouse, at the site of the first statewide woman suffrage convention in North Dakota in 1895. The historical marker is one of five to be installed around the state commemorating the women's suffrage movement for the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
The Grand Forks marker commemorates not only the first statewide suffrage convention, which was held at a courthouse that stood in the same location as the present-day courthouse, but also the creation of the first woman suffrage group in the state in Grand Forks in 1888.
"We thought that was a really important event to recognize," said Susan Wefald, co-chair of the North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee.
The marker was unveiled with little fanfare on the courthouse lawn last week. A dedication ceremony was initially planned for this spring, but was postponed due to the pandemic. The ceremony has not yet been rescheduled, but Northeast Central Judicial District Judge Lolita Hartl Romanick and Grand Forks County State's Attorney Haley Wamstad are expected to lead the dedication committee.
Erecting the marker has been in the works for more than a year, since North Dakota Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee Grand Forks members Cynthia Prescott and Nikki Berg Burin approached Grand Forks County Commissioners about commemorating the city's early Woman Suffrage Association and the convention.
"Women and men were organizing for suffrage in North Dakota, even in the late 19th century," said Prescott, a UND associate professor of history. "At the time North Dakota was very much still a rural state, very much a frontier state, right when white Americans and European immigrants were just beginning to settle in this area. And yet there were women who were really leading the charge to bring national suffrage, right here in Grand Forks."
Five markers were made available to every state in the country as part of the National Votes for Women Trail funded by the Pomeroy Foundation in New York. Wefald said North Dakota is the second state after Kentucky to apply for and receive all five available markers.
Another marker has been installed in Valley City, N.D., honoring Elizabeth Preston Anderson, an early suffragist who testified at several state legislative hearings in favor of allowing women the right to vote. Three other markers have been approved, but have not yet been installed: one in Pembina honoring Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, a suffragist and Native American rights activist; one in Beach, N.D., honoring Clara Darrow, the president of the North Dakota League of Women Voters from 1912-1915; and one at the deLendrecie building in Fargo, the former state headquarters of the North Dakota League of Women Voters from 1912-1918.
Wefald said she hopes the markers will not only commemorate the past, but help connect it with the present. She said, eventually, the Woman Suffrage Centennial Committee hopes to share the names of the 75 Grand Forks residents who signed a document stating they wanted to hold the 1895 state woman suffrage convention in the local courthouse.
"We hope that, in the future, somehow these names can be published again, so that people can see who signed that original request for this meeting in April of 1888," she said. "We're hoping that some of our ancestors who are still located in and around the Grand Forks area will want to come to help dedicate this."