Tales of Two Doctors

One of the quiet places I’ve found to walk during the current Covid-19 pandemic is Riverside Cemetery in Pierre. On a recent visit, I noticed two doctors who both passed away in October 1918. Knowing that was in the depths of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic’s second wave, I thought I’d research their lives and see what their stories were. Surprisingly, from one brief news item in April 1918, I think they shared an office suite, before both passed away a few months later less than two weeks apart. Dr. Youngs did die from complications following influenza, but Dr. Simm died of pneumonia while in military training in Georgia.

A road in the older sections of Riverside cemetery, photo by author, April 2020.
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The 1916 Campaigns

A set of campaigns in South Dakota about the 1916 suffrage amendment to the state constitution involved so many intersecting ideas, details, and stories, that I’m going to put the narrative together here in one place. This will focus on the two sets of campaigning led by ‘out-of-staters’ that generated a lot of press. Then, on my other pages I’ll be able to link back to this post for these two big-ticket campaigns, rather than repeating so much on a number of timeline, biography, etc. pages.

At the start of the year 1916… The state legislature in Pierre had passed a bill for a state suffrage amendment at their session in the late winter of 1915. It was put on the ballot for November 1916. The South Dakota Universal Franchise League under president Mamie Shields Pyle of Huron was the most active organization working in support of the bill, with the assistance of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union also supported suffrage, but was simultaneously waging a campaign for a state prohibition amendment that was also on the 1916 ballot. Working against the suffrage amendment was the state’s auxiliary of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, led by Ethel Jacobsen of Pierre, which re-formed in the summer of 1916. For the first five months of the year, suffragists’ activity had been of the slow-and-steady variety. The SDUFL worked on getting local suffrage leagues organized, Pyle canvassed voters for their opinion on the bill, and local speakers like Myra Weller, Mary Maguire Thomas, and Nina Pettigrew made speaking appearances [Mitchell Capital (SD), July 20, 1916; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), July 21, 1916].

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Knocking at the Door: The Legislative Work of South Dakota Suffragists

Alice M.A. Pickler
“We said we would not have it written in the history of our State that any legislature had ever convened without our knocking at the door for suffrage.”
Upton, Proceedings of the 25th Annual Convention of NAWSA, 1893, 148.

Suffragists were a consistent presence at territorial and state legislatures from 1885 to 1919, and there are indications there were women in attendance in 1868-69 to witness the first votes on equal suffrage legislation here. Though much of the movement for this period is about advocacy for legislation, I’m going to focus below on the active work of women and men interacting with the legislative process in support of expanded suffrage for women. During their advocacy, South Dakota’s legislature met every other year – the odd years – for a short period in January-March.

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What I’m Reading 12

These first two items have been sitting on my “post about these” list since October… shame on me.

Feminist Biography and the Historical Narrative” by Rebecca Montgomery on Rural Women’s Studies’ blog speaks to me — if you’ve checked out other posts on this site, you’ve likely seen biographical info on South Dakota women and it’s also a large part of my suffrage work. And Montgomery’s research subject–Celeste Parrish, an education reformer–has some resonance with the many women on my SD suffrage lists who sought higher education or were educators, who sought educational opportunity, leadership roles, and equal pay. There is still vast need to find and raise up stories of women in the historical canon. There are innumerable ways that these additional stories may change or expand what we know of our history.

Custom Dressmaking, 1880–1920” by Linda McShannock for MNopedia (Minnesota’s digital encyclopedia) was a wonderful read for context for some of my past posts. I’ve been (slowly) working through the 1909 state business directory and pulling out lists of the women included for certain towns, trying to do some basic biographical research for each (I recently posted the short list from Madison SD). A lot of those women worked in dressmaking, or millinery, etc. This is a great overview from a neighboring state with more information about how those businesses operated.

And finally, the new issue of South Dakota History v.50.1 (Spring 2020) features a series of essays about the (Swiss) Benedictine Catholic missionary experience. While the essays, written by three men with credentials on the topic (Robert W. Galler Jr., Steven A. Stofferahn, and Paul G. Monson) and written primarily about the white men who were the priests/monks/missionaries — they do re-evaluate those historical men, looking at how they themselves were affected by the networks of interactions with the native people in their mission fields and with the other parties of Protestant missionaries, the federal government, and Catholic leadership. One of the most moving stories highlighted was when a native man reminded the missionary that ‘God is nice’–changing the way the missionary saw his own faith. The essays include substantial information on Bishop Martin Marty, Father Pius Boehm, and the Immaculate Conception mission at Stephan on the Crow Creek Reservation. They use interesting sources that get at nuances of the stories behind official mission reports or newsletters. A couple times there’s a mention of the St. Paul mission on the Ihanktonwan/Yankton reservation and its Father Sylvester Eisenmann that I’ve looked at a bit before.

And there are a few discussions of the women who worked at or for the mission. Stofferahn talked about severe disagreements between Boehm and the Benedictine Sisters sent from Yankton to work at the mission, characterizing the women as frustrated and physically abusive to the students–including the death of one student from being hit by one of the nuns (according to the student’s father) while Boehm was away. Though he acknowledged (chronic) abuse and mistreatment of students in at least one private letter, he hid the accusation of assault from official documents. {It begs a study of women as perpetrators of violence in the colonial project, not as universally benevolent caregivers…} Then also Stofferahn and Galler both mention Boehm’s solicitation of financial support from Mother Katherine Drexel in Pennsylvania after the mission school’s federal contract ended. Drexel supported the Yankton mission too. Galler includes interesting details about Drexel’s instruction and direction that she tied to her financing. This then paralleled one of the books reviewed in the back of the issue–a biography of Phoebe Hearst (by Alexandra M. Nickless, 2018) who used her wealth to influence the development of the University of California (and civic and educational amenities in Lead SD where her Homestake mining company ran the town). {A study of the use of money by women to exert power in the early 20th century would be interesting.}

The issue concludes with a “Dakota Images” profile of Sister Mary Claudia Duratschek who was an educator and significant historian and archivist for Catholic history in South Dakota. {I should do a post of early women historians too.}

Women in Business 1909, Madison

Like a couple previous posts, I’ve pulled a list of the women recorded in the state business directory for 1909 for a certain city, this time–Madison (link to the list). The headings of each use the phrasing (Miss, Mrs., initials) etc. from the source list. These would represent the women who wished to advertise their work/business in the directory, but many more women certainly worked for an income, including as wage employees, those in family businesses (including agriculture), and/or those in service industries.

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Suffrage Exhibits in NoDak

Last fall (2019), I passed through Bismarck on my way to the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Brandon, Manitoba and stopped at their state Heritage Center. I spotted suffrage history in one case of their main exhibit, and one designed by an intern and shown in a large hallway display case off the main atrium (which I assume they rotate to feature different themes & collections). The content wasn’t anything ground-breaking but hopefully raises the profile of the topic for their visitors — and both did cover “the long history” of suffrage and take it through the ERA era [haha, ERA era… I wonder how many people have made that joke before me…].

An Industrial School for Working Girls, Huron 1889

In the 1880s, Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) groups in various parts of the country worked on women’s issues beyond temperance. Some set up schools, homes (or boarding houses), employment bureaus, lunch rooms, or reading rooms for single ‘working girls’ or ‘unfortunate girls.’ For instance: in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in Rhode Island, in Omaha, Nebraska, and in Akron, Ohio.

In October 1889, the W.C.T.U. in Huron started an “industrial school for working girls” under the direction of Emma Smith DeVoe. Their initial membership was 30 students. One of their first meetings was held on a Friday evening, October 25th, at the Baptist church (where DeVoes were members). They then held regular meetings at the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Hall on Tuesday evenings (an organization with which the DeVoes were local leaders).

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