Women voters in Michigan were able to vote in Presidential Elections in 1918, nearly two years before the United States federal government ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution. It took only six years, from the time the state allowed women to vote in national elections to when a woman held office in the House of Representatives.
The woman who made history was Cora Reynolds Anderson. She also made history by being the first Native American to hold an office in the state.
Her journey to the Michigan House of Representatives started in the Upper Peninsula. On April 10, 1882, Anderson was born on the L'Anse Reservation; she was of Ojibwe (aka Chippewa) descent. After she graduated high school in 1899.
After graduation, Anderson went to the Haskell Institute, which is now known as the Haskell Indian Nations University, in Kansas. She received her teaching degree and returned to Michigan. For a few years, she took up teaching and began a romance with Charles Anderson.
The couple married on Christmas Day 1903.
Anderson continued to teach and advocate for children during this time. Along with her husband, she fought for prohibition to be enacted, not only in her area but across the entire state. She believed that alcoholism was a public health crisis and wanted to help as many families as possible.
There were cheers when the constitutional ban on alcohol went into effect on January 17, 1920. It also fueled a desire to do more for her community.
Heading To The House
In 1924, Representative Patrick O'Brien decided to retire early. A special election was called to replace him. Anderson decided to throw her hat into the ring. She ran unopposed and was sworn in on January 7, 1925.
House Speaker Fred Wells appointed Anderson as the committee chair on the industrial school for girls in Adrian. His reasoning was that she had the educational background to provide insightful suggestions. It was also a reward for the work that she had done in the communities surrounding her.
Due to her advocacy in various areas, she was assigned to other high-profile committees like the Agriculture, Insurance, and Northern State Normal School committees. In that time, she was able to get a lot of work done, including authoring some legislation.
With her tenure coming up, Anderson made it known that she planned on running for re-election. Many thought that she would win another term very easily since she was the first woman to serve in the House, and she was so popular with the leaders.
However, she was challenged to a primary by William C. Birk. Voters decided to change their representative, and the nomination went to her opponent. He went on to win the seat in the general election.
Despite her defeat, the legacy of what Anderson accomplished lives on.
The Legacy She Left
Anderson left office on January 5, 1927, the day that Birk was sworn in. At the time, she vowed that her time in activism was far from over. She and her husband began to devise other ways to serve their community.
On January 5th and 6th, 1927, she served as a delegate to the Michigan at the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence tidewater congress. She was one of the first women to be asked to do it, and it was a source of great pride for her.
During that stint, she talked about some of the things that she accomplished as a representative. She spoke of some of the laws still in effect in 2022. One of the big pieces of legislation that Anderson helped get passed was the regulation of beauticians. She believed that those who wanted to work in the beauty industry should be licensed and educated.
She also helped pass a bill that required hotels to be clean and safe for visitors. The argument used for passing the law was that it was in the best interest of public health. Her colleagues agreed and passed the bill.
Along with her husband, Anderson continued to advocate for the causes dear to her until her death. On March 11, 1950, she died just about a month shy of her 68th birthday.
In her honor, Michigan lawmakers named The Anderson House Office Building after her; it was dedicated on December 19, 2000. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame the following year.
Undoubtedly, Anderson opened the door for the many women who followed her in serving in the Michigan House of Representatives. To date, it is believed that she is the only Native American to serve in the same capacity.