Persistence Exhibition: Stefanie Kiihn

Persistence: Continuing the Struggle for Suffrage and Equality, 1830-2020

Artist: Stefanie Kiihn Aschenbrenner

Chosen Suffrage Leader: Clara Eva Hardenbrook

Video: https://youtu.be/BHvFXhGY0i0

Artist Statement

PDF of Stefanie’s longer research statement on Clara Eva Hardenbrook: Ashenbrenner Statement 2020

Clara Eva Hardenbrook attempted to vote in 1914, years before women were granted the right to vote. She contributed to changing public opinion and left a legacy of valuing the right to vote and taking a stand.

To the left of her portrait, a map of downtown St. Paul commemorates the lawsuit that followed Clara’s act of defiance. Medallions feature:

  • Clara’s lawyer Gustavus Loevinger at the Germania Life Insurance building where he officed
  • Lawsuit organizer and suffragist Emily Dobbin at the Mechanic Arts High School where she taught math
  • The old Ramsey County Courthouse with the businessmen who filed an intervening suit

To the right of her portrait, a map of St. Paul’s east side shows where Clara lived and describes her personal story. Medallions feature:

  • Clara and her first husband, Harry Hardenbrook, in front of their home at 1016 Cook Street
  • Clara and her daughters in front of 886 Phalen Ave, where she lived after Harry’s death

Stefanie Kiihn Biography
Stefanie Kiihn is a Minnesota-based artist who works in pen and ink. The principal theme in Stefanie’s art is the history of a place. Her favorite location is Saint Paul. Her work investigates neighborhoods to match historic maps to current streets and buildings. She researches the people and architecture of the past to locate the ghost-like footprints that are left. What did the city look like before freeways and railroads? Where are the lost neighborhoods and lost ways of life? What architectural treasures have been lost? What forces preserved the historic buildings that still survive? Who shaped the city we know today?

Stefanie grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota. She exhibits locally and regionally, including the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Competition, White Bear Center for the Arts, and Natural Heritage Project. She currently lives in Roseville with her husband and hound-mix named Darla.

Clara Hardenbrook Biography
(1877-1936)

Clara Hardenbrook was a working class woman who lived with her family on the East Side of St. Paul. In 1914 she wanted to vote in an upcoming election that included a referendum on a new, populist city charter. Since 1875 women in Minnesota had been eligible to vote in school board elections and the new charter was going to affect the way St. Paul schools were governed.

There isn’t any evidence that Hardenbrook belonged to an organized suffrage group and we don’t know what made her take action. She registered to vote as C. E. Hardenbrook, but when she tried to vote on May 7, she was turned away from the polls.

Hardenbrook did know Emily Dobbin, a teacher. Dobbin had been president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association a few years earlier. She had also been president of the Political Equality League of St. Paul. Dobbin quickly hired a sympathetic lawyer, Gustavus Loevinger, to file suit on Hardenbrook’s behalf. The case went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which issued a decision against Hardenbrook in December 1914.

The Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association did not rally behind Hardenbrook. MWSA favored petitions, resolutions, and lobbying, not direct action. A few years later this would lead to a major split between the mainstream National American Woman Suffrage Association and its affiliated groups and the new National Woman’s Party, which felt that direct action, like picketing the White House, was needed to make the Congress act on woman suffrage.

After her court case, Clara Hardenbrook went back to her working class life on St. Paul’s East Side. After her husband died of tuberculosis in 1921, she supported herself and her children by working at different times as a bookkeeper, a substitute teacher, and a baker, selling homemade bread to a few shops including Cossetta’s. Clara Hardenbrook died of a stroke in 1936 at the age of 59.

Back to Persistence exhibition main page.