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Among the fifty-five delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention were 49 men and 6 women, including Dora Sweeney, Helen Fischer, Ada Wien, Katherine Nordale, Mildred Hermann, and Dorothy Awes. Sweeny, Fischer and Wien were identified by profession as "housewife," while Nordale was a teacher and Hermann and Awes were lawyers.

Almost 90% of the delegates were men. That statistic seems today to be a gross injustice, except it needs to be clarified by historical context. At the time the small Alaska delegation of six women comprised the largest percentage of women to ever help write a constitution in the United States.

Obviously there were no women delegates at Philadelphia in 1787, and it appears that the first 48 original state constitutions were written entirely by men. Even the constitution of Wyoming, which as a territory in 1869 took the unprecedented step of granting women equal suffrage, was written by a slate of 55 male delegates. Apparently only three conventions before Alaska's had any women delegates whatsoever. Though 10.9% of the Alaska convention was female, the percentage was only 2.4% in Missouri in 1943, 9.8% in New Jersey in 1947—which produced the first state constitution explicitly guaranteeing equal rights for women—and 7.9% in Hawaii in 1950. Of course as the number of women in politics began to rise after the 1960s, so too did female constitution drafters, even though the men were still the vast majority. When the people of Montana revised their constitution in 1972, almost one-quarter of the delegates were women.

The six women who came to Fairbanks in 1955 did not think of themselves as percentages or a woman's caucus. A few weeks into the convention Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reporter Florence Douthit wrote a short profile of Dorothy Awes, asking if the six women were being treated differently than the men.

"History is not repeating itself at the Alaska constitutional convention as far as women's rights go," Douthit wrote. "Luckier than her predecessors, Miss Dorothy T. Awes, Anchorage delegate finds there are no obstacles peculiar to women at this convention. 'The only distinction made between men and women delegates are the invitations to teas,' says the 37-year-old lawyer, a resident of Alaska for ten years." (The women were invited to various women's functions that the men were not.)

The article continued:
One of six in the women's delegation, Miss Awes says
that this minority group is not aware of being one. 'We aren't
a group apart; we're just six more delegates.'
Simply dressed and graying, despite her age, Miss
Awes entered the stiff Third Division race for the convention
for her two main interests—Alaska and law.
'I've been a permanent resident since the day I
set foot in Alaska. As such I want to help frame a
constitution for the future state—my home.'
…..……………………..


Quiet, but with her own opinions and the
ability to defend them, Miss Awes is opening her own
doors, putting on her own coat, and not worrying
about being in what is classed a 'man's field.'

During the discussion of whether the voting age should be lowered from 20 to 18—as a compromise the convention selected 19—Delegate McLaughlin said the claim that teenagers were not to be trusted with political power brought back memories of the earlier generation's fight for women's suffrage.

MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Chairman, I am sure that none of the senior or junior ladies present here in this Convention were ever members of the 'bloomer girls' and I am quite sure that none of them ever marched in a suffrage parade, but my recollection is, dimly, that the same arguments that are being used here against 18-year-olds were the arguments that we used approximately 35 years ago against women's vote. The history of the thing goes back about 90 years when they removed the curtain of coverture from married women and permitted them for the first time to contract. The arguments were against it. They didn't feel that women were capable of managing their own affairs. They did not feel that women were capable of voting and would be unduly swayed, in a sense, by their husbands and by the temperance societies to which they belonged.

The issue of women's rights in Alaska surfaced directly when the civil rights plank, Article 1, Section 3—"No person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right because of race, color, creed, or national origin."—came to the floor. Delegate John Rosswog immediately moved to add the word "sex" after color.

Ada Wien, who along with Dorothy Awes was one of the two women on the Bill of Rights committee, explained that the committee had decided that the term "person" in the section referred to both men and women. Rosswog said he was concerned about the failure to clearly guarantee the civil rights of women. Though he had been told by the Bill of Rights Committee that "'persons' or 'person' should cover that matter," he found no place in the "constitution where it states that that means both sexes."

Helen Fischer supported the amendment. She said there were still states in the United States "where women are not allowed to serve on juries." Jury service was a good litmus test for the respect for women's political rights and emotional stability. In the 1950s many states still allowed women to be excused from jury duty, if the case would be too difficult for their "fragile" constitutions, a policy not outlawed until a 1975 Supreme Court ruling.

The most powerful voice against adding "sex" to the civil rights article came from Mildred Hermann, the oldest and most experienced woman at the convention. She had first come to the territory as a teacher in 1919. After marriage and two children, Hermann studied law by correspondence from La Salle Extension University in Chicago. Ostensibly because of the low quality of her correspondence training she was refused admittance to the Alaska bar several times, until she was finally accepted in 1934, and subsequently worked with pioneer Judge James Wickersham. During World War II she became director of the Office of Price Administration in Alaska, and after the war secretary of the Alaska Statehood Committee.

"I think it is wholly unnecessary to put that word [sex] in the constitution," Hermann said. "I agree with Mr. McLaughlin and also with Mrs. Wien that whenever the word 'person' occurs it does refer to persons of both sexes."

In her speech Hermann claimed inaccurately that in 1913 "Alaska was the first political subdivision under the American flag to give the women the right of suffrage." Even though it was true that the first act of the first Alaska legislature in 1913 had been to give women the right to vote, Wyoming had led the way more than 40 years earlier. Still it was clear that Alaska had long offered women opportunities not found elsewhere.

"I think Alaska as a Territory and even before it had a legislature," Hermann said, "amply provided for the political and civil rights of its women and we have nothing at all to complain about in those respects. There are some changes we may want to see changed in regard to property rights and things of that sort, but I think it is an unnecessary incorporation into the text of the constitution and raises the inference perhaps in the minds of people that we need that protection because we do not already have it…. I think we are putting undue emphasis on a contingency that does not exist. I am going to be against the amendment."

Hermann's opposition doomed the attempt to forbid discrimination on the basis of sex to the Alaska Constitution in 1956. Sixteen years later in 1972 the voters of Alaska approved an amendment that added the one word she wanted left out: "No person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right because of race, color, creed, sex, or national origin."