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Cora Reynolds Anderson: Pioneering U.P. legislator was born on L’Anse Reservation

In Michigan, women could vote for school trustees as early as 1867, but they were not granted the right to vote in presidential elections until 1917, and not in state elections until an amendment to the state constitution was ratified in 1918.

So although Michigan was a bit ahead of the rest of the nation when it came to women’s suffrage (the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law on Aug. 20, 1920), it was not by much.

How amazing, then, that just four years after she was first allowed to vote in a presidential election, Cora Reynolds Anderson, an Ojibwe woman from the Upper Peninsula, was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.

Cora Reynolds was born on the L’Anse Reservation in 1882 or 1883 and educated at the Zeba Mission and at the L’Anse High School, where she graduated in 1899.

After receiving a teaching diploma from the Haskell Institute, now the Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kansas, she returned to the U.P. where she taught school in Zeba and Skanee.

She continued her work as a teacher and advocate after her marriage to Charles Anderson on Christmas Day in 1903. They briefly ran the Thomas Hotel in L’Anse, but then purchased a 160-acre farm.

Concerned about public health issues, especially tuberculosis and alcoholism, she organized the first public health service in Baraga County, bringing the first public health nurse to the area.

She and her husband worked hard to establish prohibition in the area well before it was established nationally. She was active in the Grange, one of the first organizations to allow men and women equal voices and a strong political force in the state.

In 1924 the State House seat for the district representing Baraga, Keweenaw, Ontonagon, and Iron counties became vacant and she ran unopposed for election. With high voter turnout she was elected, becoming the first woman, and the first Native American, to serve in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Although Anderson served only one term before her district was eliminated in redistricting, she used her time in the legislature to continue to advocate on public health matters and other issues important to her constituents, including licensing for beauticians, sanitary rules for hotels, and fishing rights.

She chaired the committee that oversaw the Industrial Home for Girls in Adrian, and served on the Agriculture and Northern State Normal School committees.

After her term in the legislature, Anderson continued to be active in the Grange, serving as the U.P. representative to the state chapter. By 1930 she and Charles had relocated to Bay City, where he served as a prohibition agent.

Cora Reynolds Anderson died in 1950. In 2000 the Michigan State House Office Building was named the Anderson House Office Building in her honor. It is the only government building in Lansing named for a woman.

In 2001, when she was added to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, they wrote, “At a time when minorities, including Native Americans, were subjected to considerable economic and social discrimination, Anderson’s determination to attend college and return the benefits of her education to her community was notable. Her role as educator, legislator, and public health reform leader aided the Native American community as well as the whole of society.”

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