Histories of Millinery in South Dakota

In the previous posts I have worked on about South Dakota women in business or professions, a great number of those women listed in those books, directories, and newspapers have been in millinery work. But, I quite honestly don’t know much about millinery work. I’ve seen ads with lists of the types of goods for sale, and feel like I have a basic idea how retail worked in the late 19th and early 20th century, but if pressed for specifics of what their daily workload was, how they ran the businesses, who their employees were, who their customers were… I would find that difficult.

So here, I’m going to start taking additional notes about millinery work in South Dakota (and maybe some general material. I’ll record things by research ‘session,’ so I’ll just keeping adding new material to the end whenever I find something helpful–at least helpful to me, hopefully to others as well. Please feel free to comment with questions or suggestions.

For the women profiled in my earlier posts, I usually have “professional women” or “women in business” as the title, you can search those in the sidebar. Below, I’m going to ‘bold’ any additional women named in these sources. Maybe I’ll get the chance to look at them closer someday.

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Women in Business, Hot Springs 1909

The following is another of my “Women in Business” series, looking at women listed in the 1909 state business directory for various cities. Today, Hot Springs in Fall River County. A Hot Springs Town Company was created in 1881 to create a resort in an area with natural mineral springs. The new town became county seat in 1883. Learn more: https://www.hs-sd.org/about-hot-springs/history/. The SD State Archives has digitized early newspapers from Hot Springs, so I thought this city would have that additional research material. That source panned out for some of the women, but others must have been so low-key or transient that they didn’t appear much in the papers… or in censuses or other records.

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Women in Business, 1881

For this post, I went through the business listings by town that were printed in the History of Southeastern Dakota: Its Settlement and Growth. Sioux City, Ia., Western Publishing Company, 1881. Following are the women named in those lists. I don’t know how they were selected for printing. Like my 1909 posts, there were certainly more women than these doing paid work in South Dakota in 1881. There were others just in the same census households as many of these women.

I have them grouped by profession, then by city. The great majority were in millinery and dress-making. In terms of research, I restricted myself to online sources that I could access fairly easily. For this early period, I typically only found good results for women in cities that have newspapers for the 1880s digitized by the SD State Archives in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site. Some were in 1880 and 1885 censuses, but many weren’t — so either there were significant enough spelling differences in the transcription that my searches didn’t work, or some of these women were transient enough that they weren’t in South Dakota long enough to get picked up by those records.


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Women in Business, Milbank 1909

This is another post in a series where I pull names of women from a 1909 SD business directory that’s been transcribed online, and research the lives and work of those women. I’ve also added in list form the names of women from the 1910 census in Milbank that were listed with occupations–this of course doesn’t include all the women who worked primarily for their own households, and probably several others who were listed as homemakers but did other paid work as well. Sources cited at the end.

Today, the Milbank 1909 Business Directory:


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Blackface Minstrel Performance in South Dakota

I came across my first article about a minstrel performance in South Dakota while researching the history of women’s suffrage, because an amateur performance in Mitchell had an act where a young woman in blackface did a “stump speech” act about suffrage…

The history of racism in America is a national story. Even with a low Black population in most of South Dakota in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, white communities in South Dakota were still active participants in racist structures, including in entertainment.

South Dakota audiences watched professional minstrel troupes on their vaudeville circuit tours. South Dakota communities also held amateur minstrel shows in “burnt cork” blackface make-up— both as pure entertainment, as well as fundraisers for schools, churches, or other charitable causes. Sometimes guest directors were brought to lead local amateurs’ performances. Local “home talent” was generally white, but some news items from Rapid City and Yankton made it sound like there were very occasionally local Black residents that formed performance troupes. There were also Black performers who traveled in minstrel shows at the time—actors, comedians, and musicians often faced with a range of bad options for jobs available to them in the decades between slavery and the Civil Rights movement. A number of the visiting troupes from the South, or out-of-state at least, were comprised of Black performers. Many of those troupes were managed by white men.


For the following, I searched South Dakota newspapers from 1860-1923 in the papers available digitally through the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site for the terms: “burnt cork,” “blackface,” “black face” (hundreds of results but mostly not in relation to actual minstrel performances, just the words in other use), “blacked up” “minstrelsy,” and “minstrel” (for which there were hundreds and hundreds of results). And this was with only a select number of newspapers available so far on the site… I also caught two articles from 1929 about another event while I was looking at microfilm of a Vermillion newspaper for a different project. All that said, search operations and human error being what they are, I can’t claim this is a fully comprehensive list.

The news items summarized and cited below detail a thread of this history. Most of the newspaper commentary was about the quality of the talent, the size of the audience, and the newness or staleness of the ‘jokes.’ I saw no indication of objection to such racism in the name of entertainment. There was one pastor who preached against minstrel shows, but probably more for their low-brow reputation than because of racial injustice.

There was some stomach-churning racism demonstrated in these articles and advertisements. And racial prejudice against people of African descent was occasionally joined by prejudice against women, American Indians, Chinese-Americans, and Arab people [See for instance: Custer Weekly Chronicle (SD), April 21, 1900 and Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), March 3, 1905]. All part of a long history of insulting, and often lazy, stereotypes being used as novelty entertainment, and it’s not something we’ve outgrown entirely.

I have included some (but not all) of the clippings and quotes, which often used racist terminology (though I ‘bleeped’ some…). A number of the ads had actual photographs, and some had particularly racist illustrations—such as in the Saturday News (Watertown SD), May 22, 1913 and in the 1915 special supplement of the News. I have a few clippings of advertisements included. I also sometimes made a parenthetical note by links that included others.

Because this is something of a ‘data dump’ post, it’s not a detailed analysis of the phenomenon, but I think it is a demonstration of its embeddedness in South Dakota history. Just scroll down and back quick — There was more than you thought, right? If there are readers who find this helpful for more analytical research and/or a public history project, I’d love to hear about it.


For some general American history of minstrel shows and blackface performance:

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What I’m Reading 15

I’ve gone into the podcast thing I mentioned in the last What I’m Reading (No. 14). Two really good ones:

  • The History Chicks podcast episode June 2020 on Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer is awe-inspiring…
  • Dig: A History Podcast, on Sex & Soldiers: Combating Sexually Transmitted Infection in the US Military (May 2020) briefly references scholarship by Presentation College professor Brad Tennant on the history of sex and the Lewis & Clark expedition — for the history of sexually-transmitted infections and their prevention within a government project than for ‘soldier’ narrowly.

And brand-spanking new & interesting Suffrage history articles:

Meilan Solly, “What the First Women Voters Experienced When Registering for the 1920 Election,” Smithsonian Magazine, July 30, 2020.
A really interesting, concise, and geographically-broad look at what happened next after the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920 before the November election.

Cathleen D. Cahill, “Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša): Advocate for the ‘Indian Vote,’” Women’s Vote Centennial, July 30, 2020.
An excellent profile by Cahill of Zitkala-Ša and the discourse on native enfranchisement in that period. Cahill features her in her upcoming book Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement too. I didn’t know the Quaker influence over her education, and how that likely supported “ideas of spiritual equality of the sexes.” I also didn’t know she was buried at Arlington — I wish I’d known her history when I lived nearby there. I visited that cemetery several times… a beautiful and fascinating place… And I also really need to find and read some of Bonnin’s own writing. Add a copy of this to my TBR pile… Help Indians help themselves : the later writings of Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša) (Texas Tech University Press, 2020).

There are certain public domain photos of Zitkala-Ša that get used ALL the time… They’re gorgeous photos, but were taken of her in college (around then, I think), and posed/costumed in certain ways. I wish there were more of her older — I found one in a 1920 news article, and I’d imagine it’s more how she presented herself in a lot of her political work as her career progressed...
The Texas Tech book has a cover image of her older too – maybe as she dressed to give lectures to women’s clubs in traditional clothing like Cahill mentions her doing.

Pensacola Journal (FL), March 16, 1920.

Susan B. Anthony in SoDak

In this post, I’ll consolidate my notes about Susan B. Anthony’s work for equal suffrage in South Dakota while she was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She made two visits (one of which was several months long) during the 1890 campaign. Many sources have more detailed biographical information for her, suggestions are in the “More” section below. Throughout, sources are listed by number in the endnotes. I’m also still actively researching suffrage in South Dakota (this will not be news to frequent readers), so if/when I find more information on Anthony’s work here, I’ll likely be adding to this post.

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, 1900, in Frances Benjamin Johnston, The World’s Work, 1906, via Wikimedia Commons.
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Suffrage Appeals for Political Party Endorsements in the 1890 SoDak Campaign

In November 1889, an amendment to the state constitution was put on the 1890 ballot, South Dakota’s first election as a state, to remove “male” from the eligibility requirements of voters. This had been directed by the last state constitutional convention in Sioux Falls earlier that year. In October 1889, suffragists in South Dakota had met in Huron to organize an Equal Suffrage Association that would work to build support for the upcoming amendment. Sixty delegates from sixteen counties were reported to have attended.  At that first meeting, in addition to electing officers and setting its documents in order, they also set up committees to solicit support from the Farmers’ Alliance, the Knights of Labor, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, “and similar organizations.” News reports of the new organization noted that its leadership came from across the political spectrum — that S.A. Ramsey was Democrat, Alonzo Wardall was Republican and Farmers’ Alliance, M. Barker temperance, and that treasurer Sarah Richards “is not yet considered to have apolitical opinion but when she has the right to express her ideas by a vote she will be found on the side of ‘progress and purity’ every time” [1]. 

Reportedly, the S.D. Farmers’ Alliance had been made the initial invitation that occasioned Susan B. Anthony’s first visit to South Dakota in the fall of 1889. In late November, Anthony concluded that trip with a speech on suffrage to the Farmers’ Alliance convention in Aberdeen. S.D.E.S.A. officers Helen Barker and S.A. Ramsey gave response speeches after Anthony [2]. The Farmer’s Alliance was a political organization, though not a formal party, that advocated for the interest of farmers against “big business” that had more power in politics and the economics of transportation and markets. Suffragists were elated to have an early boost to their campaign when the Alliance adopted a supportive resolution at that convention, which read:

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Gardens and Yards in South Dakota Digital Archives

Today I wanted to spend some time browsing historical photographs. It’s terribly relaxing, and interesting. I recommend it.

Here are my selection of favorite cultivated domestic landscapes in the collections of the South Dakota Digital Archives so far. There should be more histories of domestic landscapes in South Dakota. Gardens and yards in the history of early settlement in South Dakota on a generalized level were symbols of ‘civilization,’ of ‘improving’ ‘wilderness’ — of the success of the settler-colonial project. On a personal level, making settlers’ new homes more like their previous homes–more comfortable psychologically after the massive migrations many settlers had undertaken to arrive in South Dakota. They were also accomplishments, sources of pride to neighbors or visitors at fair exhibits. They were of instructional value for students. Working gardens were also of practical benefit, with plants for food and other use. Domestic landscapes resulted from traditions of vernacular/folk knowledge of planting and cultivation. They were also results of increasing knowledge of horticultural science for Dakota growing conditions that was being developed by early nursery business owners and scientists like Niels Ebbesen Hansen at the college in Brookings. Settler families could have bought seeds or plants from local businesses — some of whom operated in better faith than others — or from seed dealers of the door-to-door variety, or from catalog sales.

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Matilda Hindman and the 1890 South Dakota Suffrage Campaign

As I was looking through The Woman’s Journal in the Schlesinger Library’s (Harvard University) digital collections for notes on suffrage in South Dakota, I noticed that Matilda Hindman wrote several substantial reports back to the Journal about her time in SoDak. Henry Blackwell and SDESA secretaries Moses Barker and Will Bailey did so as well, but Hindman’s stood out.

I have also noticed that she does not come up on Wikipedia or major suffrage history/biography sites… so I wanted to see what else I could find, and consolidate my notes on her here. I’ll add things in future if/when I find more.

History of Mathematics at Mount Union,” Mount Union College website.
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