Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Minnie Priest Dunton 1864-1921
By Keri Graham and Madeline Miller: Saint Martin's University, Lacey, WA
Idaho State Librarian and Suffragist
Minnie Priest Dunton was born Minnietta Priest in Winchester, New Hampshire on February 29, 1864 to Nancy M. Wilder Priest and Silas Priest and was the youngest of five siblings. In her early years, she went by "Etta" as shown in census documentation 1870-1880; later, she went by "Minnie." She passed away on July 13, 1921 at the age of 57 in Boise, Idaho.
Although born in New Hampshire, Minnie moved to Massachusetts and was a servant in the family of Charles D. Weston. In 1883, she married Herbert W. Dunton, born in Maine. It is unknown exactly when they made their way out west to Idaho, but the 1900 census places the two with their son Herbert Edgar Dunton, in Boise. Herbert Dunton was a well-known Boise lawyer, and their home Rosemere--which Minnie named--was built in 1899. Minnie converted the cottage into a boarding home in 1906 according to the National Registry of Historic Places. Although her husband died the following year, she and her son continued to live there. Her home, Rosemere, is located at 906 Hays Street, Boise. She sold it during the first World War, according to the Idaho Republican newspaper in July 1918. It is now a privately owned apartment building.
During her lifetime, Minnie was an active member of the Rebekah Assemblies in Idaho. The International Association of Rebekah Assemblies, is an international service-oriented organization and a branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1894, she was appointed secretary and ten years later in 1904, she became president. Her position as a former servant and then upper/middle class woman speaking in support of suffrage gave her a unique perspective. Especially in comparison to most other suffragists in the Pacific Northwest who had more privileged upbringings.
Minnie's suffrage activity is well accounted for in Idaho newspapers – she spoke about suffrage and is even noted as attending Idaho's second Suffrage Convention in Lewiston, July 1896, as part of the "press committee." The topics of this convention focused around suffrage and sobriety, which were two hot topics in Idaho at the time. "'By pen, by voice, by vote,' was a popular slogan at the time women were urged to write to legislators, to sign petitions, to speak out at appropriate times." (Barnard) They knew that by combining suffrage efforts with support for the temperance movement they would gain more support and respect.
As a State Librarian appointed in 1907, Minnie worked in Idaho at the Idaho Library. This position of public office was esteemed--the woman who held it before her being the first woman in that position. Minnie was only several years behind that and paved the way for many other women of the future to hold this position.
In 1916, Priest notably met with New York suffragist Harriot Stanton Blatch at a committee meeting. The topics of this meeting included the fight for votes for women nationally and the quest to hold more public positions. According to the textbook Women in American Politics: History and Milestones, Minnie was mentioned for her work for the 19th Amendment in Idaho. She is referred to as a "prominent women's rights pioneer." In History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, " she is described as working side by side with the men for suffrage "sanely and quietly"-- also that this is one of the reasons men were so willing to have women hold public office. (This wording was carefully selected and reviewed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony and other notable women in 1922).
In 1918, she delivered a touching tribute in La Grande, Oregon, to the soldiers lost in the first World War. Her own son had been in the service during the war. A La Grande newspaper praised her oratory skills, her patriotic spirit, and her passion. She is described as "...a woman of rare intelligence, pleasing personality and fine presence, commanding the admiration of her audience as she appears; with the marvelous quality and power of her voice—as the master of expression—she delights and charms her hearers as she renders, with artistic effect and dramatic fervor..."
Minnie died on July 13, 1921. Noted by the Mountain Home Republican newspaper as both a "former state librarian and club woman," in addition to her Rebekah Odd Fellowship work.
Legislative Record. (1919, February 13). Evening Capital News, p. 5. Retrieved from https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88056024/1919-02-13/ed-1/seq-5.pdf
(n.d.). Rebekahs of Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.rebekahsofidaho.org/past_presidents.htm
(n.d.). Vital Archives. Retrieved from http://files.usgwarchives.net/id/statewide/vitals/deaths/19111951/dp-dz.txt
Barnard, K. (1990, July 03). WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE RIGHT TO VOTE CAME EARLY IN IDAHO. Retrieved from https://lmtribune.com/feature/women-s-suffrage-right-to-vote-came-early-in-idaho/article_d6e0296a-ba14-59fe-87e4-2789689dcf38.html
Bulletin of the American Library Association, Vol. 1(No. 1-32). (1907-1938). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/journal/bullamerlibrasso.
Find a grave "Herbert W Dunton" https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/43877994/herbert-william-dunton
Herringshaw, T. William. (1913). Herringshaw's American blue-book of biography: prominent Americans of ... An accurate biographical record of prominent citizens in all walks of life ... Chicago, Ill.: American Publishers' Association.
French, H. T. (1914). History of Idaho: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1. Idaho: Lewis Publishing Company.
National Register of Historic Places - IDAHO (ID), Ada County. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/id/ada/state.html
Stinson, H. L. (1897). The Official History and Literature of Odd Fellowship: The Three-link Fraternity. Fraternity Publishing Company.
"United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MDQF-LB3 : 12 April 2016), Silas Priest, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 49, family 430, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 552,156.
"New Hampshire Birth Records, Early to 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FLPB-1V8 : 10 March 2018), Minnietta Priest, 29 Feb 1864; citing Winchester, Cheshire, New Hampshire, United States, Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Concord; FHL microfilm 1,001,029.
Mountain Home Republican, "With the Sick," July 16, 1921.
La Grande Observer, "Mrs. Dunton to Speak." July 11, 1918, p. 6.