Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Minna Ketel O'Donnell, 1878- ?
By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University
Minna Ketel was born in Wisconsin in 1878, the first child of Prussian immigrants, Herman and Christiana Ketel. Her father was a stone mason as recorded in the 1880 census for Nellsville, WI. Minna attended school through the 8th grade. By 1900 she was living in San Francisco, a single lodger, employed as a typesetter.
In 1907 Minna married Edward O'Donnell, a printer, whom she might well have met at her work. In 1910 the couple lived on 35th Avenue in San Francisco with Minna's younger brother, Edwin, a contractor.
The years bracketing 1910 were Minna's most active period. In 1908 she served as president of the Wage Earners' Suffrage League. A 1911 newspaper account noted that she was the outgoing president of the Women's Auxiliary, No. 18, of the International Typographers' Union. In an account in the San Francisco Call, two months before the statewide woman suffrage vote in October 1911, Mrs. O'Donnell explained the basis for the League: "It is said in opposition to our cause . . . that the woman's place is the home. It would be a nice thing if every girl could stay at home and help her mother until she is married, but now a girl of 14 or 15, in many families, has to go to work to support herself, to earn her own living, often to the impairment of her health. We want a voice in making laws under which we earn our living." O'Donnell was repeatedly in the news in the runup to the October suffrage vote. The August 30, 1911 issue of the San Francisco Call noted that O'Donnell would preside at a mass suffrage meeting at which the mayors of Berkeley and San Francisco were scheduled to speak.
Her involvement in suffrage issues continued after the successful referendum vote, when she represented the Wage Earners' Suffrage League at the 1912 convention of the California Equal Suffrage Association. The women gathered at the event debated the future focus on the association, agreeing both to support the press for woman suffrage in other states and to work to support women's issues in California.
Minna O'Donnell drops from view in San Francisco newspapers after 1912, though she continued to live in San Francisco. She and her husband are both recorded as printers in the 1920 census of San Francisco. They had no children, but a young stenographer boarded with them. The year 1930 found the couple had moved from the city to Glenn, CA, 140 miles north of San Francisco, along the Sacramento River. Edward was working as a farmer and Minna had no occupation listed. Edward died in the 1930s and the 1940 census recorded widowed Minna still living in Glenn and listed as a farmer. The household included three boarders, a married niece and her husband, and the third described in the census as a friend.
No death record has been found for Minna O'Donnell.
Federal manuscript census--Wisconsin, 1880, Ketel family in Nellsville. San Francisco censuses for 1900-1920; Glenn, CA census entries, 1930 and 1940.
"California Equal Suffrage Association Holds Its Annual Convention with State Wide Representation," San Francisco Call, 6 January 1912, p. 10.
"Two Mayors to Speak on Votes for Women," San Francisco Call, 30 August 1911, p. 7.
"Women to Patrol Polls for Suffrage," San Francisco Call, 1 October 1911, p. 35.
Mae Silver and Sue Cazaly, The Sixth Star: Images and Memorabilia of California Women's Political History, 1868-1915 (San Francisco: Old Street Press, 2000); accessible online at https://lwvc.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/sixthstar00silv.pdf