Kansan sought suffrage, ban on smoking

03/08/2010 12:00 AM

05/18/2014 1:03 PM

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”

Minnie Johnson Grinstead was ahead of her time — by nearly a century. A Baptist preacher, teacher and speaker, Grinstead advocated keeping Kansas tobacco free.

In November 1918, Grinstead was elected to the state House of Representatives. It was a first for Kansas women.

Minnie Johnson was born on a farm on Sept. 30, 1869, in Crawford County. After she graduated from the Kansas State Normal School in Emporia, she began teaching and became a lecturer for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

She married Virgil H. Grinstead, a judge from Liberal. She became active in the suffrage and temperance movements in 1895. By the turn of the 20th century, Grinstead had chaired the Equal Suffrage Association in the 7th Congressional District and become a lecturer on the national circuit. Until Grinstead was elected, Kansas offered women only a few options for political power.

In 1861, the Kansas Constitution allowed women to vote only in local school elections. In 1867, Kansas voters — white men — were considering whether to allow African-Americans and women the right to vote. Male abolitionists wanted to give only African-American men the vote. In the summer of 1867, abolitionists and Republican leaders openly opposed women’s suffrage. It wasn’t until 1912 that male voters finally approved full women’s suffrage in Kansas. Kansas was the eighth state in the nation to award women the right to vote. In 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment, women across the nation were extended the right to vote. As a legislator, Grinstead championed education and opposed liquor and smoking.

She introduced legislation that made the purchase of tobacco illegal in Kansas — although it did not gain much momentum. Grinstead served three terms. She returned to Liberal and was elected a probate judge. On Dec. 24, 1925, while making preparations for a Christmas dinner, Grinstead suffered a stroke and died in her Liberal home. She was 56. On July 1, Kansas will go smoke-free indoors. The ban includes restaurants, bars, workplaces and other public spaces. No doubt, Minnie Grinstead would be pleased.

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