Club Leaders of the Past

Clara Ueland (1860–1927) was one of the original founders of The Woman’s Club in 1907, and by that time she had lived in Minnesota for 38 years and was a recognized leader. She was born in 1860 in Akron Ohio, moving to Minnesota in 1869 with her family. Initially she was a schoolteacher until she met and married Andreas Ueland, a wealthy Norwegian lawyer, in 1885. She had eight children, including Brenda Ueland, who became a journalist, editor, teacher, and writer. Clara was ahead of the times with how she raised her children, teaching “boys to do housework and encouraged the girls to go to college.”

gratia countryman

Head Librarian Gratia Countryman in 1907. Gratia played an instrumental role in early Minneapolis history.

She joined the suffrage movement in 1901 and was later asked to help start The Woman’s Club when 38 influential women met at the Public Library under the encouragement of Gratia Countryman, Head Librarian. She served as First Vice President and head of Programs during the first year of The Woman’s Club before taking over as Chairwoman of the Arts and Letters Department (initially, The Club was divided into three departments–one of which you joined). She continued on as the Chairwoman (although the directory lists her as “Chairman”) until 1912, when she began to take a more active role in the suffragette movement. She remained a Member of The Woman’s Club through 1920.

She founded the Equal Suffrage Organization of Minneapolis in 1913, which had both male and female members according to reports. She organized a suffrage parade in Minneapolis with nearly 2000 marchers; this is thought to have propelled her to the presidency of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. She knew that she needed support outside of the capital cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and she mailed regular “Dear Suffragist” letters to suffrage leaders statewide, and made visits to outlying towns to give speeches.

History was made when the 19th amendment passed Congress in 1919. She attended the 1920 victory convention in Chicago and the first national congress of the League of Women Voters. Shortly thereafter, she assumed leadership of the League’s Minnesota branch. Not only did she campaign for women’s voting rights, but after that right was secured, she continued to fight to get women elected to office, all the while working hard to improve and protect children’s lives through labor laws.

Ironically, she was campaigning for stricter child labor laws at the State Capitol in St. Paul on the day she died in 1927, an activist to the end. She was struck by a truck near her home by Lake Bde Maka Ska, dying nearly immediately. A plaque in her honor is in place in the State Capital, honoring her years of activism.

Clara stands as a testament to what can be achieved when one sets their mind to it, even in the face of overwhelming hurdles. She continues to be a source of inspiration for many Club Members, and challenges us to strive for perfection and fairness in an imperfect and unfair world.

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