Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Jean McNaughton Stevens, 1856-1936
By Amber Szulc, undergraduate student, University of California, San Diego
Jean McNaughton, born in Scotland in 1856, was on the forefront of a women's movement in the United States as women moved out of the domestic sphere and into the public and work world. Over 80 years, McNaughton Stevens never led a quiet life. She was a famously good public speaker who became Grand Chaplain of the North Dakota branch of the Order of the Eastern Star, organized women's clubs, and was both a school teacher and a strong leader in every field she entered. She became a role model for women in her community as she exercised leadership and proved that powerful positions could be run by a woman. It took quite a bit of time to gain respect from the community, and she showed this through her leadership roles, but her progression helped other women feel the confidence to do work outside the home.
Her journey began as the immigration story of Jean McNaughton - unmarried still in 1889 - who moved from her birthplace of Dumfries, Scotland to the quaint place of Minot, North Dakota, USA. She had already spent years cultivating her oral and written skills, even graduating from St. Andrews College in Aberdeen, Scotland before moving to North Dakota, where she took on the job of a governess and tutor. Later she became a teacher and that is where she began to challenge the roles that constrained women to motherhood and domestic life. In 1894 she married Wisconsin-born Evarts Cornelius Stevens. The couple settled in Towner, ND, where they were enumerated in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses. Evarts had a son by an earlier marriage, but Evarts and Jean had no children of their own. Evarts was recorded as a druggist in the 1900 census and a dentist in 1910. Jean continued her teaching profession, which was her initial poke at the status quo, as it was unusual for a married woman to become or remain a teacher. Mrs. Stevens, dedicated to teaching and improving the lives of her students along with members of the local community, would host classes outside of regular hours. She worked for years, dedicated to cultivating better lessons and education for her students, allowing her to slowly climb up the education ladder and eventually becoming a school superintendent.
Mrs. Stevens didn't just stop at gaining a high position at her local McHenry County School. Her passion for literary excellence and desire to improve the community led her to break against the limitations on women - the glass barrier - in leadership positions throughout the community. Mrs. Stevens was the first Juvenile State Officer in all of North Dakota. She was revered as a "pioneer educator of Ward County" in local newspapers, and she was a Grand Chaplain for 20 years. She also was president of the Department of Rural School Education for the North Dakota Education Association. Mrs. Stevens knew how to run an organization and could perform these responsibilities well, refusing to allow her gender to prevent her from rising up the ranks. She was able to show to the other women in her social circles that women could lead in powerful positions.
Mrs. Stevens had a long list of accomplishments due to her ability to communicate and lead, as these skills were too valuable to the community to ignore. She would host public speeches to large audiences - an impressive feat in itself. Yet, more astonishing was how attendees of Mrs. Stevens's talks would recollect her speeches as "beautiful and touching." It shows how people looked upon her as a source of inspiration and a guide to educate them, rather than dismissing Mrs. Stevens on her gender. She was a strong leader in her personal life and had a large impact in her local community as she formed a local public library and organized women's reading clubs. She was a strong communicator and took on high positions throughout the public, religious and educational sphere.
Jean McNaughton Stevens attended the founding meeting of Grand Forks Votes for Women Club in March 1912. An account of that meeting reported that Mrs. Stevens was among the speakers on that occasion.
Mrs. Stevens had broad interests. She contributed directly to women's movements by being the treasurer of Ladies' Aid in North Dakota and in 1911-1914 she served as the Superintendent for Penal and Reformatory Work for the North Dakota Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She was also charter member, and later President, of the Jerry Rusk Corps Chapter, U.S. Women's Relief Corps.
Evarts Stevens died at some point in the 1920s and the 1930 census found Jean McNaughton Stevens a widow, residing in Minnewaukan, ND. She passed away there on July 15, 1936 and was buried in Durand, Winnebago County, Illinois.
Federal Manuscript censuses, North Dakota, 1900-1930 for Jean McNaughton Stevens (varied spellings). Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.
"Jean McNaughton Stevens (1856-1936)" Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com/memorial/108346106/jean-stevens.
"Clipping from The Ward County Independent." Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/clip/20875779/the-ward-county-independent/.
Department of Public Instruction, N. D. (n.d.). Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public
Instruction, 7 August 1913, p. 12.
Google Books. https://books.google.com/books?id=hMVEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA278&lpg=PA278&dq=Mrs.%2BJean%2BMcNaughton%2BStevens&source=bl&ots=dD6kvEOv_q&sig=ACfU3U1Zo53N7mFrRrfmyTiI48w4KaydGw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjwwY2MnbvwAhXUpZ4KHVvtBLwQ6AEwEnoECBQQAw#v=onepage&q=Mrs.%20Jean%20McNaughton%20Stevens&f=false.
Pratt, Meda H., et al. "In Memoriam," Ndeasternstar, 1936,
"Ten Leading Women Named at University," Bismarck (ND) Tribune, 28 February 1923, p. 2.
"From Mrs. Buck," White Ribbon Bulletin, 15:5 (June 1911), p. 2.
"Votes for Women," Grand Forks (ND) Evening Times, 2 March 1912, p. 5.