The National Women's History Museum in celebration of the National Foundation of Women Legislators 70th Anniversary presents Women Wielding Power: First Female State Legislators

Minnesota State Seal  Minnesota

Minnesota was slow to enfranchise women – but elected four to its House of Representatives in 1922.  Three of the four represented Minneapolis’ Hennepin County; the fourth was from Otter Tail County.

 

Myrtle Cain
Myrtle A. Cain

Sue Hough
Sue Metzger Dickey Hough

Hannah Kempfer
Hannah Jensen Kempfer

Mabeth Paige
Mabeth Hurd Paige
All images courtesy of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

Myrtle A. Cain (1894-1980)

    Known as the “flapper legislator” because of her modern attitude and dress, Myrtle A. Cain was a professional union organizer and led the first strike of the Minnesota Telephone Operators Union in 1918; almost all of the strikers were women. She was born on April 11, 1894 in Minneapolis. She attended St. Anthony’s Convent and Minneapolis Academy, at least through elementary school.

    Cain linked labor with feminism in her participation as the President of the Women’s Trade Union of Minneapolis, an affiliate of the national Women’s Trade Union League, as well as the National Woman’s Party, the organizational descendant of the more radical branch of the suffrage movement.  Her most notable legislation aimed to combat the Ku Klux Klan by making it illegal to appear in public with a masked face.  It drew national attention, and fifteen states soon followed with similar anti-terrorism laws. 

    Cain was elected to the House in 1922. Although it was a nonpartisan election, she ran under the liberal caucus. The Roaring Twenties were socially liberated, but politically conservative, and she lost her 1924 reelection bid.  Cain continued to support women’s causes, and as late as 1973, testified for the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington, DC. She died on February 6, 1980.

 

Sue Metzger Dickey Hough

    Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sue Metzger Dickey was the daughter of Thaddeus M. Dickey, a city engineer, and her family moved to Minneapolis when she was an infant. She graduated from Central High School and a Minneapolis finishing school, where her education was good enough that she was admitted to the prestigious University of Chicago Law School.  She met Frank Hough in Chicago, after their wedding on January 2, 1912, they settled in Minneapolis.

    This background served her well, and Hough won her 1922 election.  A Republican, she represented the 34th District, Hennepin County from 1923-25.  She lost her reelection attempt, however, and continued to lose races as late as 1934, when Minnesota and the nation voted overwhelmingly Democratic.  She remained active in Republican politics, sold real estate, and later worked for the Minnesota Department of Public Welfare. She retired in 1959.

 

Hannah Jensen Kempfer (1880-1943)

    Hannah Jensen Kempfer was born at sea on December 22, 1880 and was considered a citizen of England. She was an orphan, but was adopted by Mr. And Mrs. Ole Jensen of Stavanger, Norway in March of 1881.  Like many Norwegians, the Jensens settled in Minnesota in 1886, and she grew up in Otter Tail County, a rural area near Fargo, North Dakota.  Better educated than the average woman of that time, Hannah Jensen taught school until 1903, when she married a farmer, Charles T. Kempfer.

    Elected as an Independent in 1922, Kempfer focused on orphans and especially abandoned illegitimate children. “ A child should not be punished for what is no fault of his own,” she declared. “I want to do all I can to improve the lot of these poor children because I am one of them. I am an illegitimate child. I know what it means.”

    Kempfer’s crusade for humane treatment extended to animals, and she led a successful effort to outlaw cruel steel traps on public land.  Voters rewarded her, and she served in the House until 1930. She died on September 27, 1943.

 

Mabeth Hurd Paige (1870-1961)

    Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Mabeth Hured studied art in Paris before earning her art degree at the Massachusetts Art School in Boston.  She then moved to Minneapolis, where she taught art in the public school system and married law professor James Paige.  He encouraged her to study law, and after graduating from the University of Minnesota College of Law, she was admitted to the state bar in 1900.  Also active for women’s right to vote, Paige became a regional leader of the League of Women Voters when Minnesota women won the vote with the 1920 19th Amendment.

    She was elected to the Minnesota House in 1922 as a Republican from Hennepin County. Paige would have the longest tenure of any of the four women elected in 1922, serving twenty consecutive years, until she retired in 1945.  Like most women then and now, her primary concerns were education, the environment, and social welfare.   She continued her civic activism in retirement, and in 1949, was named one of the “One Hundred Living Great Minnesotans.” She died on August 19, 1961.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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