Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Minnie Nielson, 1874-1958

By Evan Jones, Sociology Research Student, University of California, San Diego

Minnie Nielson was born in Jackson, Michigan in 1874 to Mary and Wylie Nielson, who were immigrants from Scotland. Several years later, her family moved to Worthington, North Dakota (modernly named Valley City). She grew up in a small town and progressed through her education in a one-room school. This experience allowed her to problem solve and interact with other people. She fell in love with the education system and decided to become a teacher at the age of 16. Only a young adult, she began her first teaching job at a rural high school in Barnes County, North Dakota.

While receiving education and teaching others, she eventually became the head of the science department at her school and finished her college education through Fargo College. After receiving her bachelor's degree and the height of her education career, she was elected superintendent of Barnes County schools and held the position for 12 years. Following this career, in 1918 she was elected to the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction and was the first ever woman to hold that position. Her position as head of the State Federation of Women's Clubs helped her mobilize the women's vote and contributed to her electoral victory. She served in the position between 1919 and 1926. Her success was powerful for women's advocacy and equality.

In her position she affected the educational system of Barnes County and its school districts by replacing one room schools and creating seven new high schools in the area. One of her biggest accomplishments was through her campaign against illiteracy where she brought North Dakota from one of the highest illiteracy rates to one of the lowest in the country. She achieved this by campaigning against illiteracy through different board meetings, events, and school district conferences. After her 8 years in office and when her friend Bertha Palmer took her position, she roamed the states and lectured to many different school districts about eliminating illiteracy.

Eventually, she joined the Teacher's Insurance and Retirement fund as the director from 1938 to 1950. Both Nielson and Palmer were viewed as influential pioneers for the educational system in North Dakota. These women both belonged to many different clubs, including the Delta Kappa Gamma group that wrote Pioneer Women Teachers of North Dakota. Some of the other organizations she was a part of were the State Board of Health, State Board of Administration, North Dakota Education Association, the Women's Auxiliary of the American Legion, and many more. Nielson was remembered as the influential person she was because she desired to bring her leadership skills and determination to improve every club, organization, and campaign she impacted. Minnie Nielson was very influential because she was the first woman to hold her position in office; furthermore, she held that position for 8 years and significantly won each of her elections. From her motivational and leadership skills in many clubs, committees, and organizations after her tenure in office, she made a lasting impact on improving the educational system nationwide and in especially North Dakota.

Nielson never married and lived the rest of her life with family, passing away on February 27, 1958.


"Miss Minnie Nielson," Jim Davis. Williston (ND) Herald, December 6, 2019 -Updated January 9, 2021.

"Pioneer Women Teachers of North Dakota" Swanson, Nellie R., and Eleanor C., Minot, North Dakota; Alpha Omicron State, The Delta Kappa Gamma Society, pg. 153-55.

"Nielson Family Papers," Bismarck, North Dakota; State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2001, Collection Number 10107, https://www.history.nd.ov/archives/manuscripts/inventory/10107.html


back to top