Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Anne Egan Forrestal, 1867-?

By Leslie Greaves Radloff, teacher-librarian, retired; Executive Secretary of Dakota County Historical Society, Dakota County, Minnesota

Again special thanks to Dakota County Historical Society Director of Research and Research Librarian Rebecca Synder who is just as obsessed over details as I.

Anne (Nannie) E. Forrestal (née Egan) was born in Minnesota, probably St. Paul, in 1867, to Patrick and Catherine Egan both of whom had emigrated from Ireland. The 1880 census shows her as one of six siblings and the only daughter. The Egans were members of the large Irish community in St. Paul, Minnesota. Anne Egan married James Forrestal (b. 1866) at the old Cathedral of St. Paul in downtown on November 28, 1889 in what was called the wedding of the year and "elegant". The newspaper announcement reported there was singing by the joint choirs of St. Mary's Irish Catholic Church and the Cathedral, much organ music being played and Rev. John Shanley presiding. The Cathedral was close to three other nearby well-established Catholic parishes in the city: the Irish parish St. Mary's (1867), the French parish of St. Louis King of France (1868), and Church of the Assumption, the German parish (1865). James Forrestal owned a successful general contracting firm and the time of his death mentioned that his company had laid some of the first streets in the city along with doing work in out-state Minnesota. The firm did quite well until after the First World War, when it seems to have gone into foreclosure, a casualty of the times and labor disputes. Until then it appears the business did well enough to allow Mrs. Forrestal to engage in civic work with women's club, the Republican party, and others in St. Paul while also engaging in suffrage work. The Forrestals had a son also named James, born in 1891.

Mrs. Forrestal came to suffrage work with good connections, a network already in place because of her family's place in St. Paul's Irish community and her social contacts through them and her husband's business. The Irish in St. Paul had the advantage of being immigrants to Minnesota who already spoke English. They also provided the workers for the industries and businesses that built the state: they came with the soldiers at Fort Snelling; as builders of the railroads; they worked in milling and lumbering, and to some degree mining. They were shopkeepers, provided services for the community, ran rooming houses and pubs, and served as police officers, firefighters and politicians. Women worked as domestics, clerks in shops, in offices as "typewriters" (typists), and teachers. The Catholic Church with John Ireland as bishop at the end of the nineteenth century was a major force in St. Paul, as was his sister Mother Seraphine Ireland, who was dedicated to educating women: The University of St. Catherine in St. Paul was where she and the Sisters of Carondelet taught (and still teach) students while raising their social consciousness. This community (family, neighborhood, parish, schools, businesses, social groups and study groups) already provided links, the Linkedin of its day, that could, and would, be useful while "Organizing."

I found Forrestal's name's as an "organizer" in the Executive board meeting minutes of December 1, 1915: "Other organizers who served for shorter periods (of time) were Grace Randall, Mable H. Guise, and Anne E. Forrestal." However, that sentence doesn't tell the half of what organizers at that time did or why they were needed. Today their job could be compared to that of a wedding planner or events coordinator. Organizers were essential to the success of the woman suffrage movement and crucial to keeping the organization running smoothly. Many were younger suffrage workers who were impatient for change. They had more freedom of choice and mobility and it is no surprise they chose slightly more radical means to secure the vote. These women, often college graduates and in professions that already labeled them as radicals (doctors, scientists, ministers, and attorneys) also had their own incomes. Still others were teachers, office workers, telephone operators and many more clerical positions with incomes they could choose to spend as they saw fit. A radical idea in those days and heady stuff! But it was probably still true that in Mrs. Forrestal's social circle it was their husband's income that allowed the women to pursue their special interests by freeing them from some of the daily routine tasks that many women did while keeping house and looking after a family.

This group also had the advantage of newer technology: telegraphs, telephones which were used by organizers as is the social media of today; transportation: trains that crisscrossed the state stopping at regular intervals along the lines. Those coming from the East coast bringing suffragists stopped in St. Paul before going on to Minneapolis while those coming from the West stopped in Minneapolis first; river travel: the Mississippi River was, and still is, a major waterway; city streetcars and buses connected neighborhoods within cities and with the out-state areas (one of the earliest bus lines, Greyhound, was begun on the Iron Range in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1914 to facilitate travel between Hibbing and other cities on "the Range"; and the automobile which many women knew how to drive and some had access to while others owned them. The automobile changed the game, and if truth be told probably added a little glamour to the daily lives of the people in small towns where there were fewer cars while opening doors to opportunity. No doubt shorter hair and skirts were also freeing as these organizers moved quickly. The city organizers counted on the networks that were already in place to make inroads with farm wives and rural women. Organizers put all these things to work along with the older methods that had proved successful in the past. They still wrote letters to state and national representative, to the newspapers, and others within the movement. These organizers were savvy, learning from the struggles of the past and quick to pick up on the techniques used by Union organizers in the steel mills, on "the Range" in Minnesota and other places that worked and then utilizing some of what they saw in their own work.

The women put skills to work in organizing social and educational groups within neighborhoods in both town and city, into church and professional groups using them as meeting places to exchange ideas and for edification. The leaders of these groups were often the more affluent members of the community with college educations, leaders who became suffrage leaders as well. Mrs. Forrestal moved with this group in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The names seen with hers on lists for clubs and League of Women voters are those that helped create the state and its arts organizations: Pillsbury, Crosby (flour milling), Kellogg, Gilman, Coffman, Mcknight, O'Brien. Organizers literally kept the movement moving by going on the road to reach women in cities and towns in rural areas organizing. The national organization—the National American Woman Suffrage Assocation-- helped this work by providing a template that was highly organized and methodic. Organizers divided states by counties, then by congressional districts; cities by wards, so the speakers' bureaus could match the best speaker for the area and plan strategies. The Minnesota group received recognition in 1921 for work in Mrs. Forrestal's St. Paul's 4th Ward because of "the Minnesota's League's strategy was so effective in Minnesota" leading to the state being called named a "banner state". The St. Paul group along with those of the 5th ward in Minneapolis distributed more than 200,000 pieces of literature throughout the state.

Organizers understood that reaching women in areas outside the three largest cities was critical. On the Iron Range in Minnesota's northern counties, residents came from a variety of European countries: Finland, Italy, the Scandinavian countries and Eastern Europe. Owners kept the immigrant groups apart to slow down Union movements that by 1918 were coming to a head in a violent way. With their predominantly German populations and farming populations, Stearns and Brown Counties required speakers with another set of skills. In those counties and others with more Germans it was not unheard of to hear suffrage compared negatively to "what had happened in Germany." The allusion, of course, being to World War One. With the influenza epidemic in full swing all public meetings were forbidden but district organization continued owing to the work of organizers such as Mrs. Rene Stevens, Mrs. James Forrestal, and Mrs. John A. Guise (Mable H). Organizers also oversaw the ratification committees in 480 towns outside Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, the three largest cities in Minnesota at the time, plus gathering 90,000 names for a national petition. Not a bad record at all, but then Minnesota workers had a reputation of being highly organized! The organizers were the press corps reporting on meetings and gatherings, making sure that local and national newspapers got word of events and who was involved; they wrote the press releases and summarized the event for reporting back to leaders sending telegrams. Organizers also made sure there were strong voices present to deal with hecklers in the audience and the opposing Anti-Suffrage forces. These were busy women; these were the "strong women" Minnesota became known for.

Mrs. Forrestal was busy herself in St. Paul and Minneapolis and sometimes further afield. Newspapers at the time have articles written about her attending meetings of different groups, presiding as president; writing monthly bulletins (one was for The National Committee for World Disarmament). Her path crossed those of Bertha Moller and Sarah Tarleton Colvin, the Minnesota suffragist who was jailed after hanging Woodrow Wilson in effigy in Washington, D.C. during a protest. Mrs. Forrestal was a member of the Ramsey County Speakers Bureau, listed as a director for The National Federation of Business and Professional Women. It seems she thought of herself as a professional too because of her role as Secretary of her husband's company, Forrestal Brothers. Forrestal is on record in the Minneapolis Tribune on December 15, 1920 as opposing a raise in telephone rates across the state by Northwestern Telephone Corporation, calling the raise "a breach of faith." The list continues with Forrestal being at the St. Paul Hotel for the national convention with nationally known speakers for Business and Professional Women; Forrestal wrote the history of the Business and Professional Women for a book being published about women in Minnesota's history; she was one of three women chosen at a July 11, 1920 meeting to talk about "Getting Out the Vote", the other two were from Minneapolis (There has always been, and is still, a rivalry between the cities). In 1920 Mrs. Forrestal was busy planning to canvas the state for that year's "Every Woman a Voter in 1920" campaign. Another entry for that year mentions her as the "member of Ramsey County Speakers who had been most active in the Republican cause in the 4th Congressional District." The Republican Party in Minnesota at this time was more like the Progressive Party, not what it is today. With the Farmer-Labor party (DFL, which was formed in 1946 and heavily Irish), the Republican party, the Non-Partisan League and other groups all active in the state, Anne Forrestal can be forgiven for confusing farmer labor and non-partisan and not knowing that the Non-Partisan League was a state not an national group..

Minnesota suffrage workers recognized the importance of the "Pink Ballot" as there were about 30,000 women in the state who were eligible to vote in the first election in November 1920. So the organizers were out to make sure they voted. Coming from a place where "women are strong" and hard workers, it's no surprise that Forrestal's work, and that of other ‘organizers' across the state and country, did indeed get the women "out" to vote. . An anonymous poem published in the Hastings (Minnesota) Gazette on October 16. 1920 said it in these selected verses:

Not vainly we waited and counted the hours,

No room for misgiving—no loopholes of doubt

The women are out


The bribe goes a-begging---the slander won't stick,

The rogues stay at home, and the

The good state has broken the cords for her spun,

The Yankee has given the schemers his knout (whip/ billy blub)

women are out.


Make way for the man with the patriot's fame!

For Harding goes in when the


James Forrestal was found dead at home when his wife returned there on January 23, 1922, the same year Anne E. Forrestal was appointed a deputy collector for the IRS. After the failure of the Forrestal Brothers business and James's death, Anne E. Foresstal seems to have withdrawn from the activities that once kept her so busy. For being an organizer only a "short time," Mrs. Anne E. Forrestal seems to have accomplished quite a bit. No record of the place or date of death has been found at this writing.



Anne E. Forrestal b. 1867

James Forrestal, 1866 spouse; son James, 1891 St. Paul City Directory 1910

Bemidji Pioneer Bemidji, MN, By DeAnna Beachley

Jan 24, 1922

James Forrestal Obituary


Wingerd, Mary Lethert, Claiming the City: Politics, Faith and the Power of Place in St. Paul (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).

Bauer, Heidi, ed. The Privilege for Which We Struggled: Leaders of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Upper Midwest Women's History Center, 2000).

Blegen, Theodore C., Minnesota: a History of the State. 2nd. Ed., Chap. 22. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1975.

Regan, Ann. The people of Minnesota: Irish in Minnesota. (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002).

Stuhler, Barbara and Gretchen Kreuter, eds. Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays. Chapters 7: (Mary Molly), 8 (Alice O'Brien), 11 (Catheryne Cooke Gilman); p. 325 Brief Biographies.

Stuhler, Barbara. Gentle Warriors: Clara Ueland and the Minnesota Struggle for Woman Suffrage. (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press: 1995). pp. 268-69, n17.

Executive board meeting minutes, December 1, 1915, 14:636

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI. [LINK]

Owing to the influenza epidemic all meetings were forbidden in 1918. This year district organization was completed. With three organizers in the field, Mrs. Rene F. Stevens, Mrs. James Forrestal and Mrs. John A. Guise, ratification committees in 480 towns outside of the three large cities had been appointed and 90,000 signatures obtained for the national petition under the leadership of Miss Marguerite M. Wells. In March the following plank had appeared in the platform of the Democratic Statewide Conference held in St. Paul: "We believe in the principle of State woman suffrage as supported and commended by our leader, Woodrow Wilson." This was the only official Democratic endorsement ever received and there was none from the Republicans. (p. 322)

'In Search of Lake Wobegon' - The New York Times

"Where the women are strong" Catholic churches in the city of St. Paul, 1849-1950 DeAnna Beachley, "An Ode to the Suffrage Organizer," April 8, 2015 Newspapers articles identifying Mrs. Anne E. Forrestal as prominent in St. Paul and Minnesota suffrage work, wedding announcement, and notice of the failure of the Forrestal business.

rural women, community, gender, and woman suffrage in the Midwest Overview of rural women's suffrage. Accessible online at

Walsh, Margaret, "Tracing the Hound: The Minnesota Roots of the Greyhound Bus Corporation," Minnesota History, 49 (Winter 1985), 310-21. Accessible online at

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