Former Esther Russell Home

FM Suffrage Tour

Former Esther Russell Home

Moorhead, Minnesota 56560, United States

Created By: North Dakota State University


Comstock Commons is built on top of where Esther Russell used to live. Esther Russell grew up in Marshall, Minnesota, the daughter of a carpenter. She became a teacher before marrying William Russell. William became a prominent Moorhead attorney, and in American society back then, that meant his wife Esther also had the opportunity to be prominent in Moorhead society. She took this opportunity to give a voice to the fight for women's suffrage.Esther was one of four chairmen of our branch of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and she must have done a good job because on the organization’s list entitled “Prominent Minnesota Suffrage Workers,” Esther is one of only 16 people living outside the Twin Cities.

Esther was also the head of our local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU. The Temperance Movement was an international movement to get people to stop drinking alcohol, and it was intertwined with the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. America in the 19th century had a drinking problem. Women got fed up with their husbands spending their evenings and money in saloons, where women were not allowed to enter, often coming home violently drunk in an era when it was difficult for women to escape abusive relationships. For their children, their sisters, and themselves, many American women became politically active for the first time as Temperance advocates. Through the Temperance Movement, generations of women learned how to organize to get legislation passed. They developed working relationships with legislators, and they started getting more and more annoyed that they were not allowed to vote for these laws they were promoting. And their male allies in the Temperance Movement also knew that if women could vote it would be so much easier to get anti-alcohol laws passed.

But this merger of movements did have a downside. A lot of families, especially in Moorhead, owed their livelihoods to the alcohol industry. Local Saloon-owning families like the Kiefer's, Ingersol's, Magnusson's, and Diemert's shared many traits of the Suffragist families on this tour: they were prominent business leaders, they were active in local politics, they sent daughters to college to become teachers, but you don’t see their names on the rolls of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. I don’t think we should necessarily take this to mean that Emma Magnuson wanted fewer rights than Esther Russell did, but I can certainly understand if she wouldn’t want to be in the same room as the woman who is trying to make their family’s business illegal.

This point of interest is part of the tour: FM Suffrage Tour


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