The original version of this excerpt first appeared in the February 2014 edition of In The Midst Of, (c), Cokato Historical Society.
Gust Akerlund photograph of Ida Sparks Clarke.
March is Women's History Month, dedicated to honoring women who have paved the way for the next generation. In response to this tribute, we would like to recognize a few of the many women of Cokato who were and are pioneers.
Over a hundred years ago, opportunities for women outside of the household were limited. They could not vote, participate in sports, or hold political office. Single women or widows were able to acquire certain jobs, they could become housemaids, nurses, or school teachers, but were expected to stop teaching or working once they married and started raising their family. There were some exceptions. For instance, in 1901 Brita Bredeson (“Mrs. Bredeson” as she was identified by the Cokato Enterprise and official records) was employed by the Village of Cokato while her husband was ill and unable to work. She was tasked with lighting street lamps, sawing wood, cleaning the hall, and ringing curfew. These restrictions on women were soon to change. Women’s rights activists began challenging a woman’s expectations, redefining what it meant to be a “lady.”
In the early 20th century the Women’s Suffragist movement was in full swing and eventually, paid off with ratification of the 19th Amendment. As a result, on November 2, 1920, Caroline Reed became the first woman to vote in a presidential election in Cokato. She was 89 years old and a widow at the time. Her vote broke the barrier that had held women back from having a real say in the nation’s politics, and enabled women to participate in politics in a way they never could before.
Ida Sparks Clarke (see above photo) was the first and only woman mayor of Cokato, and the second woman mayor in Minnesota. Clarke was appointed mayor in 1921 and voted in as mayor later that year, serving her final term in 1922. Although she ran again for the 1923 term, she was beat out by two votes.
In 1925, Clarke ran for city council and was appointed. She served on the council until her sudden death in 1927. Since Clarke’s death there have only been four other women who have held council positions, Nancy Kern (1995), Mary Hasti (1997), Janice Severson (2002), and Teresa Martinson (2018).