May 28, 2022

Learning politics in Jamestown

Jamestown and Stutsman County were solidly behind creating two states from the Dakota Territory as the year 1888 came to a close.

A rally for the cause filled the rink building in Jamestown in December of that year. The gathering was big enough to generate a front-page story in the St. Paul Daily Globe on Dec. 19, 1888.

“Short speeches were delivered by citizens of every calling,” wrote the Globe. “Bonfires and bands enlivened the occasion.”

Telegrams from congressmen and other national political leaders were addressed to E.P. Wells, a Jamestown community leader and president of James River National Bank. Wells also served on a county “statehood committee” formed to promote the idea of North and South Dakota rather than The Dakota Territory.

And observing all of this was Marguerite Milton Wells, the 16-year-old daughter of E.P. Wells.

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Marguerite Wells turns up from time to time in the archives of The Jamestown Alert, usually in society or education stories.

In March 1888, she and classmate Alfred Dickey, son of the Alfred Dickey who provided funding the library, were among the students to have perfect attendance at school that month.

A biography of Marguerite Wells is included in the book “Notable American Woman: The Modern Period” published by Harvard University in 1980. The book notes her observations of her father’s part in the political scene of the era as “an example of democracy in action.”

She worked as a teacher early in her adult life starting that career in a one-room country school possibly here in Stutsman County.

Then, in 1917, she devoted her efforts to the movement to get women the right to vote. This would have been the late years of that movement. Women’s suffrage became the law of the land in 1920.

When that happened, Marguerite Wells moved on the related cause of educating women, and men for that matter, on political topics. This group was called the League of Women Voters.

In 1934, Wells was elected president of the National League of Women Voters. She held that office for a decade during which time she tried to provide better communications between national leaders and local members.

Local efforts like the statehood rally she witnessed through her father 46 years earlier here in Jamestown.

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Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com

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