The Jenny Briggs House

FM Suffrage Tour

The Jenny Briggs House

Moorhead, Minnesota 56560, United States

Created By: North Dakota State University


This was the home of Jenny and Francis Briggs. Jenny was one of five Chairmen of our branch of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, serving with Anna Gates, Edith Darrow Godfrey, Bessie Lewis and May Burnham, who you will meet next. Jenny’s husband Francis was a physician. This family wasn’t in town for too many years, but they were important years. They were here in 1920 when the 19th Amendment finally achieved Voting Rights for Women, and they were here for the world-changing event that went a long way to making the 19th Amendment possible - I’m talking about World War I.

Americans have forgotten just how important and life-changing World War One was to our ancestors. To those who lived through it, WWI was a defining moment of a generation, the biggest challenge our nation faced since the Civil War fifty years before. The leading families of each American community were expected to step up and lead their town’s war effort on the Home Front. And as we have seen so many times already, Woman Suffrage families were Moorhead’s community leaders, and they stepped up.

In this home, Dr. Francis Briggs served on the county draft board until he took a dose of his own prescription and became a Captain in the US Army. While her husband was away serving in an Army Hospital in New Jersey, Jenny volunteered for the most important Home Front organization of the war: the Red Cross. The Red Cross organized 20 million American volunteers to help them build wartime hospitals and stock those hospitals with everything they needed from bandages to nurses. The strength of the Red Cross was due its ability to employ the energy and enthusiasm of American women and by being one of the few organizations that offered leadership positions to women. Volunteers knit soldiers sweaters, socks, stocking caps, and bandages. Clay County organized at least 35 chapters of the Red Cross. Jenny Briggs and her fellow Suffrage Chairmen Edith Darrow Godfrey and Bessie Lewis were all members of the First Congregational Church’s Red Cross Auxiliary. Bessie Lewis’ daughter Flora was the president of the 200 member Red Cross branch at the Moorhead Normal School.

American women served in countless other ways. Moorhead Suffrage chairman Esther Russell was also chairman of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense for Clay County and led the Food Administration’s efforts to help families preserve and conserve food at home. Anna Gates had two sons who saw heavy fighting in the war. Her son Dewey was decorated for bravery for rescuing a wounded soldier from No Man’s Land and was later wounded himself. And while our Suffragists may have turned their attention toward war work, they also shamed President Woodrow Wilson for fighting for democracy in Europe while ignoring democracy at home. In 1917, Mary Darrow Weible, cousin of Moorhead’s Edith Darrow Godfrey, joined fellow Suffragists to picket in front of the White House.

When the war was won, Americans looked back at the leading roles women played and the sacrifices they endured for their nation. When they asked for the vote, how could they be denied? The final passage of the 19th Amendment was the culmination of decades of work by Suffragists and the final victory was thanks to many reasons, but the fact that the amendment was sent out to the states six months after the guns fell silent and three weeks before the Treaty of Versailles was signed suggests World War I had something to do with convincing the average (male) voter that it was wrong to deny women the vote. And it wasn’t just Americans. Woman Suffragists in United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Russia, Austria, and Hungary all won their voting rights at the end of World War I.

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


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