Local View: Memorialize all four women of the 1922 'Minnesota squad'

From the column: "Just like the 21st-century squad, the group from 1922 fought for groundbreaking legislation."

Dave Berger.jpg
Dave Berger
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In 2018, four new politically dynamic women of color were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. These charismatic legislators of the left wing of the Democratic Party have made a name for themselves for their support of progressive policies such as Medicare for All, the Build Back Better Act, and the Green New Deal. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have become known collectively as “the squad.”

Minnesotans should celebrate that Rep. Omar, one of our own, is a member of such a high-powered political and historical force.

At the same time, we should remember and honor an equally groundbreaking Minnesota legislative squad from nearly 100 years ago.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1922, Mabeth Hurd Paige, R-Minneapolis; Hannah Jensen Kempfer, I-Erhard; Sue Metzger Dickey Hough, R-Minneapolis; and Myrtle Agnes Cain, a “flapper legislator” from Minneapolis, won election to the Minnesota House. This quartet of women political pioneers was elected just two years after the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 1920.

Just like the 21st-century squad, the group from 1922 fought for groundbreaking legislation. Rep. Mabeth Hurd Paige was the first woman to introduce a bill in the Minnesota House. In January 1923, she introduced a measure that provided for the establishment of part-time classes in high school for minors who have jobs and could not otherwise take high school courses. During her 22 years in the Minnesota House, Rep. Paige sponsored many education bills.


During the 1923 legislative session, Rep. Myrtle Agnes Cain co-sponsored a bill that prevented people from appearing in public in a mask. This bill was aimed at stopping the Ku Klux Klan from wearing masks or hoods in public. This bill became the law in Minnesota on April 9, 1923, with 15 other states soon passing similar laws.

Rep. Sue Metzger Dickey Hough co-sponsored two controversial bills in 1923 regarding gun control. One bill proposed a permit requirement for carrying a firearm. Neither bill passed.

Rep. Hannah Jensen Kempfer sponsored numerous bills advocating for the welfare of children during her 18 years in the Minnesota House. In 1923, for example, she joined forces with the other three women representatives to co-sponsor a bill to give rights to children born out of wedlock. This bill was the most sweeping of its kind at that time and provided equal rights for all children, including financial support, the use of paternal surnames, and shares in any estates fathers left to their heirs.

While the Minnesota squad agreed on some legislation, it was a very politically diverse group that disagreed on many issues. Reps. Paige and Hough were Republicans and members of the Conservative Caucus of the Minnesota House. Rep. Kempfer was an independent who was a member of the Independent Caucus. And Rep. Cain was a labor activist, Farmer-Labor Party leader, and member of the Liberal Caucus.

Regardless of political viewpoints, Minnesotans should remember and honor these four leaders of our state.

The Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial does give proper credit to the memory of two of these representatives, Mabeth Hurd Paige and Myrtle Cain. Located on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, this memorial is a 100-foot steel trellis imprinted with the names of 25 Minnesota suffragists, including Paige and Cain. It was dedicated on Women’s Equity Day on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2000. The ceremony was led by Lt. Governor Mae Schunk.

Another lasting monument for a member of the Minnesota squad is the Paige Hall Apartments located at 727 Fifth Ave. South in downtown Minneapolis. Built in 1928 by the Women’s Christian Association (WCA), this building was dedicated to Mabeth Hurd Paige, who had served as the president of that organization before her first election to office in 1922. For more than 50 years, the building was used by the WCA to house young women from rural Minnesota who had come to Minneapolis seeking economic opportunities.

While it is fitting that Reps. Cain and Paige are remembered for their courageous service to our state, all four members of the Minnesota squad should be memorialized.


Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for 37 years. He is now a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the News Tribune opinion page.

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