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Bertha Berglin Moller: one of Minnesota’s most passionate and fiery woman suffragists

Following passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Moller continued her activism by advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s labor rights.

Bertha Moller
Minneapolis Morning Tribune
Bertha Moller photographed in 1922
In 1892, at the age of five, Bertha Berglin Moller immigrated to Minnesota with her six siblings and her parents, Magnus and Brita Berglin, from Storåsen, in Jämtland, Sweden. Her family began farming in Rock Creek, Pine County, and she attended high school in Rush City. Christened Brita, she used Bertha in the U.S. and attended Duluth Normal School, obtaining a teaching degree. Berglin began teaching in Pinewood, Beltrami County, where she met and married Swedish immigrant Charles Moller in 1910. She continued to teach after her marriage, which was unusual at the time.

Bertha Moller’s uncles in Sweden introduced woman suffrage legislation in parliament, which influenced her interest in the movement. In 1915, she joined the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA), traveling the state to develop local units and recruit members. She was apparently persuasive, as MWSA President Clara Ueland asked her to convince Minnesota congressmen to support federal suffrage legislation.

For 50 years, the main goal of the women’s suffrage movement had been to change legislation on the state level. By 1915, there were 15 states that had voted for full voting rights for women. Minnesota was not among them. Younger suffragists, including Moller, were frustrated at the slow pace of progress. In response, they shifted their focus to Washington, D.C., and advocating for federal legislation with more radical tactics.

First, the Congressional Union (CU) was formed, and Moller worked with their Minnesota unit while also working for the MWSA. Alice Paul (head of the CU and the leader of the federal phase of the movement) transformed the CU into the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in Chicago in 1916. Moller worked for NWP causes for most of her life, and beginning in 1918 she was the secretary of the organization’s Minnesota unit. Inspired by the radical tactics used in England, she went to D.C. to picket for suffrage at the White House with the group of NWP demonstrators known as the Silent Sentinels. She was arrested eleven times, though jailed only twice. During one of those prison sentences, she led a hunger strike. She was the only Minnesota suffragist to take part in the suffrage hunger strikes at the nation’s capital.

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In June of 1919, Congress voted for the new suffrage amendment, requiring states’ approval. Moller worked for the NWP to convince both presidential candidates to support its ratification. With final approval of two-thirds of states and Congress, the hard-won Nineteenth Amendment for woman suffrage finally became law on Aug. 19, 1920, a year after its ratification in Minnesota. Moller wasted no time in using it as a gateway to her dreams. From there forward, Moller’s life reads more like that of a woman of the 2020s. She entered the University of Minnesota Law School in 1921. Two years later, she transferred to Northwestern University Law School, graduating in 1925. While in law school she studied the legal status of working women. She and her husband had moved to Chicago for her schooling, but they divorced thereafter. Moller was hired as a lawyer for the city of Chicago, one of few female lawyers who actually found work. Alice Paul drafted and called for federal passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1920, and Moller campaigned for that unsuccessfully for the rest of her life.

Moller represented the National Woman’s Party at an international industrial convention in Berlin, Germany. In 1930 she was married to Peter Delin, also a Swedish immigrant. Her name change confounded researchers for years. She was hired by the National Labor Relations Board after its formation in 1935. Following her husband’s death in 1940, Moller traveled the country speaking about the ERA and women’s labor practices. She also worked for the Democratic Party. After she died in San Francisco in 1951, her body was shipped back to Minnesota to be buried with the Berglin family in Forest Lake.

Moller is remembered in the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Memorial at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.