By Dana R. Bennett, Ph.D.
Role in Women’s Suffrage: President, White Pine County Branch of Nevada Equal Franchise Society
Minnie Marie Comins was born on October 19, 1872, in Philadelphia to Henry Adoniram and Amanda Minnie Stouts Comins. The Comins family resided in Hamilton, a booming mining camp in eastern Nevada, but Amanda traveled to her hometown to give birth to their second child. Older daughter Henrietta (Etta) had been born in western Nevada in 1868. Both daughters later married men named McDonald who were apparently not related.
As White Pine County’s State Senator from 1876 to 1880 and 1888 to 1900, Henry Comins was often on the western side of the state for business and political reasons, allowing Minnie to attend Reno’s prestigious Bishop Whittaker School for Girls in Reno and the University of Nevada. Senator Comins was an early and ardent advocate for women’s political equality. He broached the subject during the 1891 session and nearly succeeded in getting the required constitutional amendment on the ballot just a few years later.
On October 13, 1894, Minnie married prominent mining man, Daniel Chadwick “D.C.” McDonald, a native of Canada. They settled in Ely where he served as Mayor in 1909, County Commissioner in 1916, and Justice of the Peace from 1921 until his death in 1927. They had four children, two of which survived infancy: Ruth McDonald Marcotte, born in 1896, and Roy Neil McDonald, born in 1907. Roy died at the age of 17 from polio complicated by pneumonia. When Ruth was a year old, her father located a promising mining claim, which he named for her. In 1903, the claim was developed into a copper mine, resulting in the construction of a new town. Both the town and the mine were named Ruth. The Ruth Pit continues to produce copper today.
A month after his marriage to Minnie, McDonald was elected as a member of the People’s Party to represent White Pine County in the Nevada Assembly. His father-in-law, a Republican, was the county’s mid-term Senator. During the 1895 session, Comins exercised his extensive knowledge of parliamentary procedure to counter intense opposition and achieve approval of a proposed constitutional amendment for woman suffrage. Assemblyman McDonald had been vocal in his opposition to suffrage and voted against the amendment. As required and with Senator Comins’s influence, the proposal again passed the State Senate in 1897. It failed to pass the Assembly, even though McDonald had not returned.
It is clear that Minnie sided with her father, rather than her husband, on the issue of woman suffrage and was a leader with many women’s organizations in her community. When the Nevada Equal Franchise Society established local chapters in 1912, Minnie became the President of her county’s organization. After Nevada women won the right to vote in 1914, Minnie invited all Ely women “who are interested in a non-partisan political club for clean government” to meet at her home and establish the Ely Women’s Civic League. She was elected President, and her sister, Secretary. This position also placed her as a vice-president in the Nevada Women’s Civic League.
Minnie was active in the Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs and was elected to a state office in 1926. In 1938, she served as the Federation’s First Vice President and the President of the Nevada Federation of Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Clubs in 1938. She had led the establishment of the Ely BPW Chapter and was its first President in 1930. Minnie also served as Worthy Grand Matron (a statewide office) of the Order of Eastern Star. Minnie lived nearly her entire life in Ely where she died on February 17, 1939, survived by her mother, her sister, and her daughter.
- 1870, 1880, 1900 Census
- Ely, Nevada, cemetery records, online
- Nevada Death Records, Ancestry.com
- Ely Daily Times, March 2, 1921
- Nevada State Journal, October 19, 1894; February 12, 1895; April 18, 1915; October 26, 1926; April 3, 1938; February 21, 1939
- Reno Evening Gazette, March 29, 1915; April 28, 1916; December 6, 1930
- Journal of the Assembly, 1895, 1897
- Journal of the Senate, 1891, 1895, 1897
- ONE – Online Nevada Encyclopedia
- Sam P. Davis, ed., The History of Nevada, 1913
- Austin E. Hutcheson, ed, “The Story of the Nevada Equal Suffrage Campaign: Memoirs of Anne Martin,” University of Nevada Bulletin, 1948