Ann M. Rathke

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Little is known about the seventy-two women who served in the North Dakota legislature between 1923, when women first took seats, and 1989, the state's Centennial year. Their collective story has been absent from major scholarly works about the history of North Dakota, a state which prizes its unique and colorful political heritage. The purpose of this study is to remedy this lack of information.

A variety of published and unpublished sources were consulted, including the records of proposed bills and resolutions. A survey was developed and used to obtain additional biographical and other information about current and former women legislators. The study focuses on a series of questions about this group of women. What were their collective and individual backgrounds and subsequent pathways to the legislature? What were their major legislative interests and their committee assignments? What legislative leadership positions did they hold? What were their legislative initiatives, especially those on behalf of other women? And how did the answer to these questions change over time? Women legislators were hypothesized to have come into their own as a group in the 1970s. This hypothesis was modified. Research findings suggest that it was in the 1980s that collectively these women came of age.