Clara Ueland was the first President of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. There were other suffragists from Minnesota whose contributions are still remembered. Ueland was different, however, in her ability to pull everything and everyone together. She was sort of an administrative genius, and she also recognized that there was strength in numbers. Her interest began at a convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in Minneapolis in 1901. By that time she was already a mother of seven children, yet it was through her daughters’ interest in women suffrage that she came to be involved, and even though she was raising a large family, she still found time to devote to the local MWSA and the national effort as well.
Ueland was definitely ahead of her time in terms of balancing the raising of children and working toward improving her own life and community as well. She basically created the Kindergarten model for the Minneapolis Public School district, which started as school in her home for her children and others. She was also an activist who promoted multiculturalism in the arts and preservation of immigrant cultures during a time when few even considered such an idea. She cared about clean water, encroachment on the environment due to industrialization, and she strongly promoted women’s rights in all situations, but especially the right of women to vote.
She was well respected nationally as well as within the state for her work in bringing the separate states together into a unified voice, which accelerated the process in ratifiying the amendment. Once the state League began, she set the pace for what the future actions of the League would be. The league now dedicates time and effort to many issues that reach far beyond the initial right of women to have access to the voting both. Ueland also became invaluable in her lobbying efforts at the state and national level. Her ability to organize people to action was again what made her most effective. Though she did resign her position as league president within the first year of the creation of the league, it was only so that she could spend more time lobbying at the state level for all of the issues she felt so passionately about.
My interest in joining the league was based on my frustration with the disparities I see in my government and in my community, and I believe those were exactly the reasons why Ueland became involved. I realize in raising two children of my own how hard it is to accomplish much beyond the daily activities of a working family. I’m always humbled when I think of how she influenced and empowered so many women going forward while doing so much for her own family. She truly was a visionary who cared for people and community.
~Jean Fideler, Savage, MN