Songs of Suffrage in South Dakota

In researching the suffrage movement around South Dakota, I have come across several examples of the use of music and songs for the campaigns.  I get the sense that it was a fairly common part of political campaigning in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century.  There is at least one book about suffrage songs nationally, Danny O. Crew’s Suffragist Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalog [2002] (Google Books and WorldCat), and Smithsonian Folkways put out an album in 1958 called “Songs of the Suffragettes.”

These South Dakota examples tell us about our piece of that history…


In 1888, Irene G. Adams of Webster wrote lyrics for “Woman and the Ballot,” and dedicated it to “the E.S. clubs of S.D.” [Danny O. Crew, Suffragist Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalogue of Published MusicAssociated with the Women’s Rights and Suffrage Movement in America, 1795-1921, with Complete Lyrics (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co., 2002), 111].


In the 1890 campaign Emma Smith DeVoe and her husband John H. DeVoe of Huron both contributed to the music of the campaign.  John was even named the state suffrage association’s superintendent of music [Page 004 : Letter addressed to “Women of South Dakota,” Emma Smith DeVoe: 1892-1894 (Scrapbook C), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 9, 4 Nov 1890].  At the Beadle County Equal Suffrage Association convention in the spring of 1890, he “sang ‘A soldier’s tribute to women’ with his wife [Huron Times, February 28, 1890. DeVoe Collection, WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].  In a press item for an event at Burgess Hall, Emma was described as a “bright and entertaining speaker and sings also.  Come out Veterans of the G.A.R. and hear her sing her husband’s song entitled, ‘A Soldier’s Tribute to Women’” [Page 66, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].  That same scrapbook page in Emma DeVoe’s papers at the Washington State Library also includes the text of the song.

“A Soldier’s Tribute” was dedicated by John (a Civil War veteran) to the Woman’s Relief Corps of South Dakota and includes the lines:

“In the long, long years ago, when I wore the loyal blue,
When the patriotic women, with their hearts so good and true,
Came to help us in our struggle, as no other ones could do,
Then I swore to help my sisters, for they nursed and brought me through.

And my vote shall go to free them, for they nursed and brought me through.”

The DeVoe collection in Washington further includes sheet music for “Dakota, Land of Liberty” with “words and music by J. H. De Voe” [Page 38, and Page 42, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].

The first verse of “Dakota, Land of Liberty” concludes with the line:

“Thy daughters fair demand of thee before the law, equality;
Deny them not–’tis tyranny–Dakota, land of liberty.”

J.H. DeVoe is mentioned in the liner notes of Smithsonian Folkways’ album “Songs of the Suffragettes” [the liner notes can be downloaded from the site].  He was also the publisher of a “Division and Admission Dakota Campaign Song Book” that was used during the statehood movement in 1889-1890 [Turner County herald., September 13, 1888; sheets from “page 11” are from the songbook in Clara Watson Elsom: 10/22/1908 – 8/27/ 1938 (Scrapbook A), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 7].


bower1914

Woman’s West of the River Suffrage Number, Rapid City Daily Journal (SD), October 26, 1914

Rapid City’s Rose Bower (link to her bio page on this website) grew up in the Bower Family Band and used her skills for suffrage campaigns in 1907 to 1915 by singing, playing the cornet, and whistling–even accompanying national suffrage worker Carrie Chapman Catt on a campaign in New York state [The Mitchell Capital (SD); 7/22/1915].  In a 1910 state suffrage bulletin, her round of campaign speaking was described: “She stops one day in a town, stirs them up, wins votes, whistles for money and passes on.  Her reports are cheerful and cheering.” [Page 3, Bulletin – votes for women, c1910, RA08427, Pyle Papers USD]

More on the Bower Family Band with photographs: Maxwell Van Nuys, “Genuine Original Photographs of the Bower Family Band,” 2001.


In the Jane Rooker Breeden papers of the Richardson Collection, University of South Dakota, there is a two-page song composed by Mrs. H.E. Benjamin titled “Home Protection” with a note that it was to the tune of Sweet Belle Mahone.  The song was sent to Breeden by Laura Hoffman, Benjamin’s daughter according the the accompanying letter.  Laura had been asked to sing during the first suffrage campaign (assume 1890) but had been “unable to find a suitable song” so “requested mother to compose one to go to the tune of ‘Sweet Belle Mahone'” [Pages RD06773 to RD06776, Hoffman to Breeden, September 2, 1910. Correspondence 1910-09 to 1910-10, Breeden papers USD].

From the last (4th) verse:

“Speed the hour when we may stand / Side by side in every land
With our brothers, hand in hand, / Equal in the home.
Speed the day when equity / Reigning o’er the earth shall see
Equal suffrage, full and free, / And the ransomed home.”


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