Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Martha Offerdahl, 1861-1942
By Carol-Ann Sage, teacher (semi-retired): Advanced Placement United States History and Advanced Placement World History, volunteer Washington State History Museum, Tacoma, WA.
Traditional biographies usually begin by reciting the simple details of the subject's life and deeds. However, in the case of Martha Offerdahl that would belie the importance of so many forgotten women and men who participated in the suffrage movement. Mrs. Offerdahl's single recorded act on behalf of the suffrage movement influenced the lives of countless women in succeeding generations.
Martha Mikkelsen (Offerdahl) was born on a small livestock farm near the town of Saebo, Norway on December 14, 1861, the eldest daughter of Mikkel Johannesen and Thaleta Halstensdattar. Later that month Martha was baptized in the chapel of a traditional stave church in Manger on December 29, 1861. This church no longer stands having since been replaced by a newer church built in 1884. Norwegian census records indicate that in 1875 she was still living with her parents and five younger sisters on the family farm in Saebo.
Martha lived in the Bergen, Norway vicinity until her immigration to the United States in 1884. Although documentation of her immigration date is currently unavailable, she stated on subsequent U.S. census records that she entered the United States in that year. Upon arrival she moved to Ramsay, Minnesota where she met and later married Olaf Offerdahl on February 14, 1885. A news clipping from their fiftieth anniversary quotes Olaf as saying the date was chosen because he received his first American paycheck (fifty dollars) on that day and the couple could therefore afford to marry. For the next ten to fifteen years the couple lived in Ramsay, Hennepin county Minnesota where Martha would give birth to five children Ida, Olga, Thorwald, Hildur and Iver. According to later immigration documents both Martha and Olaf were naturalized on October 14, 1897 in the state of Minnesota.
Just before the turn of the twentieth century the young Offerdahl family moved to Seattle, King county, Washington, where Olaf Offerdahl took a position with the city government, first as a surveyor, then as a draftsman for the State Highway department. Martha set up housekeeping and at some unrecorded juncture joined the local suffrage movement, perhaps inspired by the revitalization of that movement through the arrival of Emma Smith DeVoe in 1906. The focus of Mrs. Smith's campaign was to promote the passage of pending suffrage legislation, not through protests and mass marches, but rather through speeches, newspaper articles and pamphlets. in 1909 the National American Women's Suffrage Association met in Seattle during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. As planned, the combination of a suffrage convention coinciding with Seattle's first world's fair had its desired effect. Subsequently Mrs. DeVoe would request that a Sunday in February 1910 be set aside by local churches to preach sermons in favor of women's suffrage in Washington State. Although Martha's decision to support and join the movement cannot be documented, her effect on the suffrage cause in Washington cannot be denied. In 1910 Martha Offerdahl co-authored, with Mrs. Ida Abslet, a pro-suffrage leaflet (our source says "written in Scandinavian," but whether in Swedish or Norwegian is not noted). This document was distributed throughout the large Scandinavian immigrant population in Western Washington and echoed the support of sixteen local Swedish and Norwegian ministers who supported a proposed amendment to the State Constitution allowing women to vote. The amendment was finally passed on November 8, 1910 almost a decade ahead of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Martha Offerdahl, like so many contributors to the Suffrage Movement, both female and male, disappeared into the shades of history. Immigration records indicate that she and Olaf travelled back to Norway to visit family accompanied by their daughter Hildur in 1914. They returned to the United States on April 8, 1914 aboard the Bergensfjord. Hildur would later marry William Toschek in 1921 at the family church, Bethany Lutheran. Martha Offerdahl next appeared in an article in a Seattle paper when she celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of her marriage to Olaf Offerdahl. At that time, among family and friends, Martha renewed the vows she took fifty years before in Ramsay, Minnesota.
Martha Mikkelsen Offerdahl died on June 23, 1942 and was buried at Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle next to her beloved husband Olaf who predeceased her by seven years. In the course of her lifetime Martha Offerdahl may not have deemed her contribution to the suffrage movement worth a mention or as anything special. However, Martha had no way of knowing in 1910 that what may have seemed a small action would affect countless generations of women.
Sverige kyrkboker, 1895. Ancestry.com. Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, 1865-1905. St. Paul, MN, USA: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977. Microfilm. Reels 1-47 and 107-164. http://Ancestry.com. Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. ttp://
"Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QJGY-BDX8 : 28 August 2019), Olof Offerdahl and Mathea Mikkelsen, 14 Feb 1885, , Hennepin, Minnesota, United States; citing p. , local historical societies and universities, Minnesota; FHL microfilm 1,380,425.
Census Place: Seattle Ward 7, King, Washington; Page: 7; Enumeration District: 0110; FHL microfilm: 1241745. https://www.Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Census Place: Seattle Ward 14, King, Washington; Roll: T624_1661; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 0217; FHL microfilm: 1375674.
U.S Bureau of the Census Twelfth census of the United States, 1900-Population.Ancestry.com website.
U.S Bureau of the Census Thirteenth census of the United States, 1910-Population.Ancestry.com website.
U.S Bureau of the Census Fourteenth census of the United States, 1920--Population.Ancestry.com website.
U.S Bureau of the Census Fifteenth census of the United States, 1930 Population.Ancestry.com website.
U.S Bureau of the Census Sixteenth census of the United States, 1940 Population.Ancestry.com website.
U.S Passenger Immigration Arrivals Ellis Island. https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiMTAwNDMyMDIwMTI2Ijs=/czo4OiJtYW5pZmVzdCI7
"Norway Baptisms, 1634-1927," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NCK3-1B5 : 10 February 2018), Martha Mikkelsen, 14 Dec 1861; citing ; FHL microfilm 124,592.
Manger Norway Parish. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Manger_Parish,_Hordaland,_Norway_Genealogy
Martha Mikkelson Christening. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NCK3-1B5
1875 Norway Census. https://www.digitalarkivet.no/en/census/person/pf01052291003338
Olaf Offerdahl 1875 Norway Census. https://www.digitalarkivet.no/en/census/person/pf01052284005577
Offerdahl Norway Emigration 1914. https://www.digitalarkivet.no/en/view/8/pe00000000734932
Aase R Saether-Gloppen,https://forum.arkivverket.no/topic/237813-martha-mikkelsen/?tab=comments#comment-2031109
"Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960." Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2016. Citing Bureau of Vital Statistics, Olympia.
Martha Offerdahl Gravesite. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/16597702/martha-offerdahl
The History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Ida Husted Harper, copyright 1922 by National American Woman Suffrage Association. [LINK]
Alaska Yukon Exposition. https://www.historylink.org/File/8584