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Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, 1911 Personnel Photo file, Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. National Archives, St. Louis.

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin: Ojibwe Lawyer and Suffragist

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This Women’s History Month, we look back to women who worked to advance women’s suffrage. One such notable figure is Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, who worked to advance the rights of Native peoples and women, particularly Indigenous women.

Mrs. Marie L. Baldwin. Bain News Service. August 28, 1914. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division,


Born in 1863 in Pembina, North Dakota as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Marie Louise Bottineau completed school, attending St. John’s Ladies College in Winnipeg, Canada. She worked for a while, and then at 24, married Fred S. Baldwin. After the marriage failed, she went to work as a clerk for her father Jean Baptiste Bottineau, at his law firm in Minneapolis. Chief Little Shell III hired Bottineau to represent his band in opposition to the Ten-Cent Treaty (McCumber Agreement). To make it easier to conduct negotiations for a better treaty deal, her father moved to the District of Columbia, and Bottineau Baldwin moved with him, and continued her legal clerking in his office.

In 1904, she took a job as a clerk overseeing contracts in the Office of Indian Affairs. She spoke English, French, and Anishinaabemowin and had strong knowledge of her culture, which helped her in her position (Cahill, 83, 88). “She was hired at $900 per year, and received a raise to $1,000 before she had served a full year in the position; she had the highest pay of any Indigenous person in the agency.” Working at the agency gave her the opportunity to meet other prominent Indigenous people of the time and socialize with them. She and her friends formed an association in 1911 that would work to educate the public and advocate for the rights of Indigenous people in the United States, the Society of American Indians (SAI) . SAI was “the first pan-Indian reform organization in the U.S. during the Progressive Era”; it included men and women, and women were in positions of key leadership in the organization (see masthead). That was the same year she had her famous ID photo taken; she made a deliberate decision to wear Ojibwe dress and hairstyle, which was a radical act at a time when Indigenous people were encouraged to assimilate. Her dress in the photo made a clear statement about her identity as a French/Chippewa woman. That period was a time of intense activity for her; in 1912, at the age of 49, Bottineau Baldwin enrolled in the Washington College of Law. She took her classes on an accelerated timetable and in just two years, graduated as the first woman of color  and Indigenous woman graduate from the school.

While she was working on her degree, she marched with the lawyer’s group in the Women’s March for Suffrage on March 3, 1913. She was asked to create a float for the parade, but did not do so. Women participating in that march were attacked and spat on, so participation meant taking a risk with one’s physical safety. After she graduated from law school, she did not practice, but she continued her work with the SAI until 1919, talking to school groups, meeting with government officials, and being interviewed by newspapers about suffrage and advocacy for Indigenous people. In one interview, she noted that, “Did you ever know that the Indian women were among the first suffragists, and they exercised the right of recall?” Her work’s focus was improving rights for Indigenous people and Indigenous women, without losing their cultural identity (Cahill, 141).  She continued working in her position for the Office of Indian Affairs until 1932, when she retired from the civil service.


JK1896 .C25 2020 Cahill, Cathleen D. Recasting the vote: how women of color transformed the Suffrage movement.

E99.C6 I5  J. N. B. H. In memoriam, Jean Baptiste Bottineau: obit Dec. 1st, 1911.

Jeffries, Beth. “Indian Women the First Suffragists and Used Recall, Chippewa Avers,” Washington Times, August 3, 1914.

Indian Woman works for Uncle Sam,” Evening Star, (Washington DC), Dec. 4, 1910.

“Indian Representation”, The Times Dispatch, (Richmond, Va.), Jan. 30, 1913.

E77.A5 The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians.

E77.A5 The American Indian Journal.

Zitkala-Sa: Topics in Chronicling America. (accessed March 21, 2024).

“How Suffragist Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin Spoke Up (Narrated).” YouTube, uploaded by Smithsonian, 21 Jan. 2022,

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Comments (2)

  1. The history just learning and noting. Thank you!

  2. I just learned a part of story to advance woman’s suffrage specifically Native people. Thank you!

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