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Women's Suffrage 100th Anniversary Exhibit

Court Cases about Voting Rights

While efforts were underway to amend the state constitution and state statutes, advocates for women's suffrage were also asking the courts to weigh in on the issue. As early as the 1880s, the Minnesota Supreme Court began hearing voting rights cases. The summaries below and the following pages provide a glimpse into some of the more notable cases.

State ex rel. Hahn v. Gorton, 23 N.W. 529, 33 Minn. 345 (1885)Image of newspaper article announcing Ella Gorton was elected superintendent of schools

Ella Gorton was elected the Pine County School Superintendent in 1883. The previous superintendent, John Wilcox, refused to turn over the records for the position on the grounds that a woman was not eligible to hold the office. The Supreme Court determined that although women were not given the right to vote for the county superintendent position, the constitutional amendment of 1875 allowed women to hold "any office pertaining solely to the management of schools." Ms. Gorton was permitted to remain in her post and by 1885, she was one of three women holding the post of county superintendent.

Slingerland v. Norton, 61 N.W. 322, 59 Minn. 351 (1894)

Voters in Dodge County filed a petition to remove the county seat from Mantorville to Dodge Center. The petition was challenged on the grounds it did not have the required number of signatures of "the whole number voting at the last general election" because women were not counted in the number of eligible voters. The Minnesota Supreme Court held:

We are also of the opinion that women voting at the election should not be included in the computation. They are voters only for the purpose of electing school officers, and hence are electors only in a limited or qualified sense. They have no right to vote on the question of the removal of a county seat.

Image of Reads Landing Public School, 1889Trautman et al. v. McLeod et al., 76 N.W. 964, 74 Minn. 110 (1898)

This case concerns the village of Reads in Wabasha County (today called Reads Landing). The act of incorporation for the village provided that the village trustees would serve as the trustees of the school district. A group of residents sued on the grounds that the 1875 Constitutional Amendment and subsequent enacting legislation allowing women to vote in school board elections had repealed the act of incorporation related to school boards. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that although women were indeed able to vote, the new law did not affect municipalities that chose to select school board members by means other than an election.

Image Credit: School house at Read's Landing, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, 1889, MW1.9 RD5.2 r2,