In August of 1919, the U.S. Congress ratified the 19th amendment. This amendment, which went into effect the following year, officially empowered women of European descent with the right to vote. (Voting rights were not extended to any African American women or men until the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which Hubert Humphrey helped pass.) While Minnesota had granted women the right to vote in school board elections in 1875, the state did not extend full suffrage (voting rights) to women until 1919. But even without voting rights, many Minnesota women made their voices heard.
Here, we recognize just a few women (there are many others) whom pioneered the charge for women’s equality in Minnesota. These trailblazing women organized rallies and educational opportunities, printed and distributed leaflets, lobbied representatives, and even held public office at a time when women couldn’t even vote for the President. The stories of three of these women, all laid to rest at Lakewood, are below.
Clara Ueland (1860-1927)
Clara Ueland was a teacher, civic leader and perhaps Minnesota’s leading advocate for women’s suffrage in the early 1900s. Born in 1860 in Akron, Ohio, Ueland moved to Minnesota at age three. Between 1886 and 1902, she and her husband Andreas Ueland had eight children. Early in her adult life, she operated a kindergarten out of her home. This experience led her to become an outspoken advocate for early childhood education.
Clara Ueland (row 2, second from right), with husband Andreas Ueland and children in 1920.
Source: Minnesota Historical Society
Ueland’s civic engagement only grew as both she and her young children aged. By 1914, Ueland was heavily involved with the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association, a statewide organization founded in 1881 that tried repeatedly to lobby state legislature to extend full voting rights to Minnesota’s women. In 1914, she organized a march of over 2,000 suffrage supporters. This march brought new attention to the issue, and demonstrated the widespread support—and capacity for organizing—that these suffragettes held in Minnesota. That year, Ueland became the president of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association.
Five years later, Minnesota signed off on the amendment to extended full voting rights to women. Ueland was presented with the pen that then-governor J. A. A. Burnquist used to sign the presidential suffrage bill. In 1920, after the amendment went into practice, the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association changed their name to the Minnesota League of Women Voters. Ueland became the new organization’s first president.
Ueland remained involved in local politics after the 19th amendment was ratified. She organized against child labor, helped open kindergartens in Minneapolis, and spoke at many sessions at the state capitol.
Clara Ueland died tragically after being hit by a truck on an icy street as she was returning home from a 1927 legislative session. She is buried in Lakewood’s Section 9.
Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve (1819-1907)
Years before Clara Ueland led that group of over 2,000 suffrage supporters through the streets of the Twin Cities, early pioneer women like Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve advocated for women’s rights in more localized ways.
Van Cleve's parents were some of the earliest settlers in the area where she was born. In 1819, she was the first non-Native woman born in the Wisconsin Territory of Prairie du Chien (hence her middle name—the French spelling of the territory).
With her father in the military, Van Cleve spent much of her childhood travelling from fort to fort—including having lived at Fort Snelling for many years. She documented this upbringing in a book called “Three Score Years and Ten: Life-Long Memories of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and Other Parts of the West.”
In 1861, Van Cleve’s husband, already 51 years old, enlisted as a volunteer with the Union army. The war inspired Charlotte to take up politics and she began to advocate for women’s rights and other causes. She was well-known for taking action on tasks that were stalled within the political system—like building navigable sidewalks in Minneapolis. One paper noted that Van Cleve herself hammered protruding nails into a public sidewalk when the city had failed to repair it.
Charlotte Van Cleve in 1899
Source: Minnesota Historical Society
In 1876, just one year after women were given the right to vote in Minnesota school board elections, Van Cleve (then in her 50s) became the first woman elected to the Minneapolis School Board. Three years later, she helped incorporate the Bethany Home for unwed mothers and other “fallen women.” She served as the organization’s first president, providing room and board, medical care and professional skills to these women. She was a vocal advocate for women’s suffrage, and in 1884 was named honorary vice president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, though she was not officially involved with the organization.
Van Cleve was nearly 88 years old when she passed away in 1907. She is buried at Lakewood in Section 10.
The grave of Charlotte Van Cleve. This marker was updated to include a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) insignia in 2017 by the Keewadin Chapter of the DAR.
Source: Find A Grave
Carrie S. Fosseen (1875-1963)
Born the daughter of an early Minnesota settler in 1875 and raised in Southeastern Minnesota, Fosseen showed an early talent in public speaking. As she grew older, she put this talent to use as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. She held popular speaking engagements across the state, and inspired many women and men alike to take up the cause of suffrage.
Fosseen also fought for a national education law, a child labor law and education for new immigrants. Her presentations, debates and even writing on matters of women’s rights were so persuasive that many newspapers, in typical 1920s fashion, admitted that she was a stronger speaker than many male politicians.
In 1920, the same year that the 19th amendment went into effect, Fosseen became the first woman delegate to the Republican National Convention. She remained involved in politics after this convention, serving as the chair of Minnesota’s republic women’s committee. In 1921 she organized the Republican Federation of Women in Minnesota. From 1921-1937, she served as Minnesota’s republican “national committeewoman”—an advisory position, alongside a “national committeeman,” that was filled by one citizen from each state between 1924 and 1952.