The Mary B. and Frank H. Peterson House

FM Suffrage Tour

The Mary B. and Frank H. Peterson House

Moorhead, Minnesota 56560, United States

Created By: North Dakota State University


You’ve seen this house before when you were standing at the entrance of the Comstock House. This used to be the home of Mary B. Peterson and her husband, Minnesota State Senator Frank H. Peterson. The house is now split into apartments and the building’s entrance has changed from the Peterson’s front door facing 8th Street to their side door on 5th Avenue. Mary Peterson was one of the four district chairmen of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and a frequent donor to the cause. She was one of the founding members of the Moorhead Woman’s Club in 1893 and her husband Frank was a leading Progressive in the Minnesota State Senate.

Most of this tour has been talking about how regular people in a prairie town played a small role in the larger fight for voting rights, but this house is the exception. In 1922, after voting rights were won, the National Woman Suffrage Association published an official six-volume history of how it all happened. The chapter written by the Minnesota Suffragists singles out Senator Frank H. Peterson as being one of the most important legislators working on behalf of Woman’s Suffrage - the most important being Otter Tail County’s Ole Segang, whose nickname at in St. Paul was “The Napoleon of Woman’s Suffrage.”

Senator Peterson’s work for suffrage was related to his life’s calling of getting people to stop drinking alcohol. It is likely that Senator Peterson worked hard to give women the right to vote because he believed it was the right thing to do, but politicians like Peterson also hoped that women would add votes to the Temperance cause.

The jury is out over whether the Temperance cause helped Woman’s Suffrage or hindered it. To use modern political jargon, it brought out the base but it also energized the opposition. Fearing women voters would bring about Prohibition, the liquor industry fought tooth and nail to prevent women from gaining the right to vote. Senator Peterson saw Woman’s Suffrage bills come before the Minnesota legislature five times between 1909 and 1917, and each time the Suffragists lost by only four or fewer votes in the senate. Each time the opposition to the bills was led by senators connected to the liquor industry. But in January of 1919, the passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution made alcohol illegal throughout the whole country and brought about national Prohibition. As soon as Woman’s Suffrage was uncoupled from the alcohol debate and could be considered on its own merit, the Minnesota Legislature had a profound change of heart. Minnesota approved the proposed 19th Amendment that would end voting discrimination against women by a margin of 100 to 28 in the House and 49 to 7 in the Senate.

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


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