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].
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.
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…].
A number of South Dakota suffragists were connected to the newspaper industry, as owners, co-owners, editors, writers, or suffrage campaign press/publicity chairs. Following are extracts from my biography pages for these women and men, so we can look at this group of professional and amateur people of the press —
Several Socialist leaders came to South Dakota to campaign for suffrage, and equal suffrage was supported by South Dakota socialists in the 1910s.
Visiting Lecturers and Organizers
In 1898, Ida Crouch-Hazlett (c1870-1941) toured South Dakota for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), but soon after, in 1902, became a prominent organizer and lecturer for the Socialist Party of America. Revealing some of her opinion of class hierarchies, it was reported that she said “that active opposition to the movement has ceased in the state except among classes that have everything to fear from upward social movements” [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), September 22, 1898; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), September 23, 1898; et al.]. She spoke often on suffrage as well as Social Reforms [Black Hills Union (Rapid City SD), July 29, 1898; Mitchell Capital (SD), October 7, 1898].
The South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center opened their suffrage history exhibit in mid-November, a couple weeks ago, in their Observation Gallery space–upstairs from the back of their permanent exhibit hall. The center panels are organized by theme, there are some interactive opportunities, profiles of suffragists in lighted panels, and a video on a loop about the national story. Bonus, quality bunting work 🙂
As I’ve been reviewing scanned correspondence about the November 1918 election and its results in the University of South Dakota’s Mamie Shields Pyle Collection, a number of suffragists around the state reported to the South Dakota Universal Franchise League president Pyle about the status of the influenza epidemic in their communities — the work they had been doing in nursing or how the flu put up obstacles to suffrage work. The epidemic hit in the weeks before the election, ruining final campaign plans, and it continued in the time afterwards when the S.D.U.F.L. hoped to raise money to cover their $3,000-4,000 of remaining debts after the campaign.
[September 7, 2019: I’ll post for now and add to this as I find more… I’ve read through correspondence scans from November 1st to 10th, 1918.]
Notes from the collection: