In 1914, Clara Ueland surveyed a crowd 2,000 strong marching through the streets of Minneapolis. All this hullabaloo was her doing.
She was a former schoolteacher -- a prim, bespectacled mother of eight in her 50s -- and before she’d stood among her army of 2,000, she’d risen from poverty to relative comfort thanks to her marriage to prominent lawyer Andreas Ueland. She’d used her newfound political influence to establish several free kindergartens in the city -- even taught the first few classes out of her home near what is now Bde Maka Ska.
Ueland had always been a proponent of education and gender equality. She’d raised her children on those values: teaching the boys to help with housework and encouraging the girls to attend college. But it had only been in the past decade or so that she’d been drawn to this latest cause: suffrage.
On this day, the marchers had taken to the streets to demand the vote for women. Up until the suffrage parade, the trek toward the vote had been measurable only in tantalizing inches. In 1876, women got the right to vote on local governing bodies. Then, in 1901, Ueland had watched a fellow woman, Jenny Cray, successfully land a seat on the Minneapolis School Board.
That had been the first moment she’d seriously considered a world where women could elect the president of the United States.
She had no idea how soon that world would be a reality. Organizing the suffrage parade rocketed Ueland into a place at the head of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Before she took the helm, the association had been passionate, but relatively scattered. She harnessed the same skills she’d used to rally thousands to hire organizers and appoint neighborhood coordinators. One suffragist referred to Ueland as “the Moses who is leading Minnesota to the Promised Land.”
She was still president in 1919, when their ceaseless lobbying at the federal level paid off, and the 19th Amendment passed. Suddenly, nationwide, women had as much say as men in choosing mayors, senators, presidents. That meant there would no longer be a Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association.
That same year, Ueland became first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters, which exists to this day, making sure everyone has the requisite knowledge and means to vote.
By the next year, Ueland was in Chicago, ringing in a new era of politically active women with many of her fellow suffragists. But she was far from done. Before she’d been a suffragist, her chief cause had been equal access to education. Now that women everywhere had the right to vote, she wanted to make sure they used it for something worthwhile.
Two years later, she was the head of another political campaign, this one taking on child labor. She continued to show up again and again at the Capitol, speaking during legislative sessions and championing keeping children in the classroom rather than in factories. She was still fighting when she was in her late 60s.
She was returning home from a legislative session on a cold day in 1927 when a truck slid on the ice and hit her. She died almost instantly.
Ueland was known among suffragists for her temperance, even conservatism, when it came to tactics. She frowned upon protests and aggressive demands for equal treatment. But still, she was the one who singlehandedly turned Minnesota’s suffrage movement into a calculated attack. She built the ranks and stationed her soldiers, even trained them to be well-informed, engaged voters. Her successors carry on this work today.
In celebration of her efforts, there is a small plaque at the Capitol with the following inscription:
“As she fought ever without malice and without hatred, so may we fight.”