GAC visiting professor

Professor Misti Harper listens to one of her students while teaching a class at Gustavus Adolphus College.

ST. PETER — The women who attended a public lecture Thursday about the suffrage movement share similarities with the persistent Minnesotans highlighted by presenter Misti Harper.

Like the influential state residents who worked for women's right to vote, Ann Pesavento, of St. Peter, is keenly aware of the importance of elections.

Pesavento, a retired Gustavus Adolphus College professor, also believes women's history is important to study.

“I came to the program pretty much as pure potential for learning,” she said, referring to Harper's presentation, "Leading Minnesota to the Promised Land: The Legacy of Gender Equity and the March Toward Women's Suffrage in the North Star State." The talk was part of the Life: Learning is ForEver program.

Pesavento said she was aware of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote.

“But I really appreciate hearing the presenter's perspective on indigenous people and her discussion of a women's march in Minnesota 100 years ago.”

Harper, a visiting history professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, is a native of Arkansas. Her expertise is in the American Civil War, American Revolution, colonialism, emancipation, sexual violence, slavery, rebellion and revolution.

Since her 2018 arrival in St. Peter, Harper has researched women's roles in Minnesota's various societies. She's also studied the state's influential women in the struggle for equal voting rights.

The election of Minnesota's two female senators was not an aberration, she said.

“What I've found is a strong tradition of empowerment,” Harper said.

Her presentation began with a description of how the state's indigenous people historically have not considered women's roles as less important than men's roles.

At the turn of the last century, Minnesota was “chocked full of Scandinavian immigrants” who came from countries that had been pushing for universal suffrage since the late 1880s. These female immigrants who'd already had a taste of equal rights reacted strongly when they encountered patriarchal repression in the new country.

“That didn't play well since women's suffrage was not a foreign concept to them,” Harper said.

She provided her audience with the histories of several movers and shakers in the state's suffrage movement, which was concentrated in the Twin Cities area. All three founders of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (1881) were transplants from the East Coast to Minnesota.

Unlike the predominant national movement for voting rights, the state's suffragettes included black women and working-class members. The Minnesotans allied with the American Woman Suffrage Association.

“That association was more inclusive and that appealed to them (the Minnesotans),” Harper said.

Black women from the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul joined forces with members of the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association to work together in the Minnesota association.

Harper said two of Minnesota leading suffragettes, Nellie Griswold Francis, a black woman, and Clara Ueland, a middle-class white woman, for years worked together to win the right to vote for women.

“They became BSFs (best sister friends) for life,” Harper said.

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