Maria Kindberg (1860 – 1921) and Ingeborg Kindstedt (1865 – 1950)

The names of Maria Kindberg and Ingeborg Kindstedt are irrevocably intertwined in the woman’s suffrage movement not only in Rhode Island but nationally because of their accomplishments during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Maria Albertina Kindberg was born in Ryd near the town of Skövde, Sweden, on October 12, 1860; she arrived in the United States on June 25, 1889. Maria Ingeborg Kindstedt was born in Glava near the town of Karlstad, Sweden, on April 8, 1865; she arrived in the United States in October 1890. Since these two towns are nearly one hundred miles apart, it is unlikely that these Swedish immigrants knew one another before arriving in America. It is also unclear how they met or where they lived until 1895 when their names first appeared in the Providence Directory. The directory shows them living together at 311 Blackstone Street in the South Providence section of the capital city. At that time South Providence was home to numerous immigrant groups, including an enclave of Swedes with a Swedish church conveniently located nearby. Maria was listed as a midwife, while Ingeborg appeared as a lecturer. Soon they were advertising a Swedish Home for Young Women, as well as an employment agency

The earliest accounts of Maria’s and Ingeborg’s involvement in the suffrage movement is found in the newspapers of the day. By 1914, accounts of meetings of the Woman’s Political Equality League of Providence appear with Ingeborg as the league’s president and Maria its secretary.  Regular weekly meetings were held at the Kindberg/Kindstedt new residence at 557 Westminster Street in Providence.

When it was announced that the Congressional Union would hold a Women Voters Convention from September 14-16 at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, both Maria and Ingeborg were committed to attend. Maria sold her car and they purchased steamship tickets. In late summer they set off on a journey taking them through the recently opened Panama Canal and then on their way up the coast of California. Little did they know at the time but what would soon unfold would catapult them into the center of one of the most iconic events of the women’s suffrage movement and cause their names and their photos to appear on the front page of many newspapers across the country.

The Congressional Union, under the leadership of Alice Paul, had been for some time collecting names on a petition to present to the U.S. Congress and President Wilson. The petition had approximately 500,000 names and the intent was to take the petition from San Francisco to Washington D.C. in time for the opening of Congress on December 6, 1915. Somehow Paul learned that Maria and Ingeborg had planned to purchase an automobile and drive back to Rhode Island. Paul, always one to grasp the opportunity for publicity, thought if women envoys could drive the petition to Washington it would get good press coverage for the cause as well as provide the opportunity to collect more signatures on the petition, establish new branches for the Congressional Union, raise money for the cause, and sell subscriptions to the CU’s newspaper, The Suffragist. Maria was willing to buy a new car (an Overland Six) and do the driving, and Ingeborg was more than capable of performing the duties of mechanic, repairing the engine as needed, and fixing flat tires.

The cross-country, 3,000-mile, adventure set out from San Francisco on September 15. The trip took ten weeks, cut across eighteen states and the District of Columbia, and encountered all sorts of mechanical and navigational problems. It must be remembered that in 1915 there were no major highways conveniently populated with gas stations and motels. Often, the day’s drive was fraught with great difficulty and personal hardship. The driver and passengers faced extreme heat in the deserts of Nevada. They confronted muddy or washed out roads that were barely more than horse trails. Streams had to be forded. In the Mid-West, snowstorms had to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the Overland Six was a convertible, so the drive eastward had to be uncomfortable as the envoys made their way into winter weather. At each stop along the way the suffrage automobile was meet by large crowds, receptions with state and local leaders and covered with articles and photographs in the national press. For the time being Maria and Ingeborg were national celebrities.

Following their harrowing trip and reception in Washington DC by President Wilson and the US Congress, Maria and Ingeborg returned to Providence where they continued to work for woman suffrage until the ratification of the 19th Amendment by the Rhode Island general assembly on January 6, 1920.

For Maria and Ingeborg, the afterglow of their suffrage efforts was short lived. On March 25, 1921, both women applied for passports; their stated purpose was to return to Sweden in order to visit relatives. Their scheduled departure was to be on April 21 on the SS Stockholm, but unfortunately, they never went. By June 7, Maria was dead. Ingeborg never appeared in any activist role thereafter. In 1933 she returned permanently to Sweden and died there on August 5, 1950.  Often overlooked today, both these remarkable women are worthy of inclusion in any listing of people who made a difference in the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States.

Russell J. DeSimone

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