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Minnie J. Grinstead

A photograph of Minnie Tamar Johnson Grinstead at her desk in  the Kansas House of Representatives, 1923First woman Kansas state legislator, temperance lecturer and organizer, teacher.  Born:  September 30, 1869, Crawford County, Kansas.  Married Virgil H. Grinstead, October 31, 1901 (died 1924).  Died: December 24, 1925, Liberal, Kansas.

The franchise was extended to Kansas women in increments during the first half century of statehood and equal suffrage finally was achieved in 1912. Six years later the salons of the Kansas legislature had to make some adjustments, when Seward County voters elected Minnie Tamar Johnson Grinstead, the state's first female state legislator.

Minnie Tamar Johnson was born September 30, 1869, in Crawford County, Kansas. She started teaching at age 16 or 17, and in time earned a life teaching certificate from Kansas State Normal School of Emporia, now Emporia State University. She taught for about 11 years. By the end of her teaching career, she was also the principal of the East building in Pittsburg. 

Grinstead was the Republican candidate for Crawford County superintendent of public instruction in 1896 but lost in the Populist landslide of that year. She quit teaching the same year to become a lecturer for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). The organization appointed her State evangelist in 1900.

Minnie Johnson married Virgil Hooker Grinstead, an attorney and former Lane County judge and county attorney in Lane and Pawnee counties, on October 31, 1901, in Larned, Kansas. They had four children, but only two survived to adulthood: Grace Darlene, born June 26, 1906, and Milton Wayde, born October 10, 1907. In the fall of 1906 the family moved to Liberal.

A good orator, Minnie campaigned for prohibition in Missouri in 1910. She also crusaded for women suffrage and chaired the Seventh Congressional District Committee in the successful 1912 effort to amend the Kansas constitution to allow full voting rights for women. As a result, she was mentioned as a Republican nominee for the United States Senate in 1914.

She was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1918, the first woman to serve in the Legislature. At first the men of the House were skeptical, to say the least. "They believed," reported the Kansas City Star (November 17, 1920), "that Mrs. Grinstead would be a 'fussy' member, and that she would scold and find fault, and 'nag' them for smoking cigars. They had visions of having to speak in whispers when they wished to express their thoughts in the plain Kansas language."

Portrait of Mineola "Minnie" Tamar Johnson  Grinstead, between 1919 and 1923Grinstead, however, impressed her fellow legislators as well as her constituents.  She was re-elected in 1920 and again in 1922. While a legislator, she served on the judiciary committee, in 1921 the first woman in any state ever to have done so. She introduced a bill to award damages directly to women who sustained injury rather than having payments go to their husbands, The Coverture Bill included certain labor and legal rights to housewives, but it did not pass. In 1923 she introduced legislation, also ultimately unsuccessful, outlawing the sale of cigarettes in Kansas. She also supported a bill appropriating $500,000 to build housing for freshman women at five state colleges. Her legislative victories included a bill to require "auto-gates," or cattle guards, instead of wire gates where fences cross highways and a Free Library Bill allowing small towns to levy funds for libraries.

In 1921 and 1922, she also served on the first state school code commission, which examined statutes relating to education and recommended changes to the Legislature.

In 1920, three additional women were elected to the Kansas House of Representatives: Minnie J. Minnich (R), Sumner County; Nellie Cline (D), Pawnee County; and Ida M. Walker (R), Norton County.

In 1920 Grinstead was selected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. At the 1924 convention in Cleveland, she seconded the nomination of Calvin Coolidge for president.

After Virgil Grinstead passed away February 22, 1924, Grinstead declined to run again for the House, preferring instead to compete for the post of probate judge of Seward County. She was elected and served until she died on December 24, 1925. At the time of her death she was being considered by the Coolidge administration for the post of United States civil-service commissioner.

Entry: Grinstead, Minnie J.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: February 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.