Belle Pelton Leavitt

Belle A. (Audrey?) Pelton was born in about 1874 (dates vary between 1870 and 1884) in Michigan. She came to Dakota Territory with her parents in the early 1870s, when they settled in Highland Township near Canton, Lincoln County [Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), September 22, 1911; 1900-1905 census, via Ancestry.com]. After graduation, she worked as a teacher, like her mother, and served as secretary of the Canton Teachers’ Association in 1891-1893. In 1894, she ran for county superintendent of schools, but she and another candidate lost the election by a substantial margin. In late 1894, she was principal of the school in nearby Worthing [Canton Advocate (SD), January 31, 1884; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), November 5, 1891, January 6, 1893, April 28, 1893, September 21, 1894, December 7, 1894].

The Woman Citizen 2 (May 25,, 1918), 511.

She married Lewis (Louis) “Lew” L. Leavitt (c1871-1944) in about 1895 [1925-1945 census, via Ancestry.com; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), October 17, 1953]. He ran a livery business in Sioux Falls that he converted to motor service in about 1915, and he later worked as an automobile salesman [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), June 15, 1897, June 15, 1930, February 4, 1935; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), June 1, 1900; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (SD), May 6, 1904; Deutscher Herold (Sioux Falls SD), April 19, 1917; 1900-1920 census and 1904-1938 city directories, via Ancestry.com]. Her husband also ran for alderman on the Socialist party ticket in 1902 [Black Hills Union (SD), April 4, 1902; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), April 11, 1902].

The Leavitts lived for a time at 421 S. Prairie, then for a number of years at 630 W. 10th St. (not extant) [1904-1912, 1916-1959 city directories, via Ancestry.com; Leavitt to Pyle, November 1, 1918, RA11619, Box 4, Correspondence, 1918, November 1-7, Pyle Papers USD; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), August 23, 1956].


Leavitt was elected to the program committee for the next convention of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League at their meeting in Huron in November 1915, and also in 1915, started her term as president of the Minnehaha County Franchise League [Forest City Press (SD), November 24, 1915; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), March 9, 1963]. In April 1916, as county president, she served as toastmaster for a reception given for NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt at the Carpenter Hotel in Sioux Falls [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), April 22, 1916]. After the amendment failed at the ballot in 1916, Leavitt was one of six women from the Minnehaha League elected to be delegates to the state convention in Huron [Huron Daily Huronite (SD), December 9, 1916].

For the 1918 campaign, Leavitt continued as president of the Minnehaha Franchise League and therefore the county campaign chair. The county league did extensive petitions of women that wanted to vote, which they could publish in the Argus-Leader and mail to all registered voters [Pyle to Clara Ueland (Minneapolis), January 26, 1918, RD07607, Pyle to county chairs, January 28, 1918, RD07614, correspondence 1918-01, Leavitt to Pyle, November 1, 1918, RA11619, and Pyle to Leavitt, November 3, 1918, RA11646-RA11647, Box 4, Correspondence, 1918, November 1-7, Pyle papers USD; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), June 20, 1918, August 15, 1918, January 9, 1919; McMahon, “How to Win a State,” 509]. She and the Minnehaha League organized a “living suffrage map” for a float at a parade in Sioux Falls [McMahon, “How to Win a State,” The Woman Citizen 3 (November 16, 1918), 508; Christina E. Dando, Women and Cartography in the Progressive Era (New York: Routledge, 2018), unpaginated]. She was in charge of arrangements for a Mississippi Conference of NAWSA that was planned for Sioux Falls on May 27-29th, but was ultimately cancelled [The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), April 12, 1918; Pyle to Mrs. John R. Leighty, February 3, 1918, RD07653, correspondence 1918-02-01 to 1918-02-08, and Pyle to Leavitt, February 20, 1918, RD07930, correspondence 1918-02-19 to 1918-02-28, Pyle papers USD; Pyle correspondence with Ueland and Leighty, Jan-Feb 1918, Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, Manuscripts Collection, 308.B.15.9B, Box 3,  Conventions, 1913-1919, Mississippi Valley Conferences, Folder 1 and Folder 2, Minnesota Historical Society]. In July, Leavitt and Alice Daly of Madison met briefly with William Jennings Bryan on his stop through Sioux Falls to express gratitude for his support for suffrage [Madison Daily Leader (SD), July 16, 1918]. In 1918, the Minnehaha League also “adopted a French orphan, aided materially In refugee work. Red Cross and liberty loan drives, and other war relief work” [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), January 9, 1919].

A traveling man said “One cannot get into Sioux Falls without hearing and seeing ‘Amendment E’ at every step, posters at the station and in every windows, huge street banner, big headquarters, everybody wearing buttons and all the women poking leaflets at one.  Oh yes, Minnehaha will carry.”
McMahon, “How to Win a State,” The Woman Citizen 3 (November 16, 1918), 509.

In January 1919, Leavitt was re-elected president of the Minnehaha County Franchise League/League of Women Voters and served until 1923. She was held in esteem by the women who worked with her [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), January 9, 1919, January 3, 1921, January 11, 1922, January 11, 1922, February 17, 1922, May 20, 1922, May 22, 1922, January 1, 1923, January 10, 1923, January 11, 1923, March 9, 1963]. She also served on the board for the new S.D. League of Women Voters that held its first state convention in Mitchell in October 1919 [The Woman Citizen 4 (August 23, 1919), 291; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), September 17, 1919]. In 1921, Leavitt headed local arrangements for the S.D.L.W.V. convention planned for Sioux Falls [The Pioneer-Review (Philip SD), March 10, 1921; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), March 11, 1921].

In February 1920, Leavitt was one of the ten delegates from South Dakota to the national LWV convention in Chicago. In 1922, she was one of the South Dakota delegates to the national convention in Baltimore that was held jointly with a Pan-American women’s conference. In 1923, she was a delegate to the national convention in Des Moines and presented a paper on the work of the Minnehaha Co. L.W.V. [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), February 21, 1920, May 5, 1922, January 1, 1923, March 3, 1923, April 7, 1923, April 11, 1923].


Leavitt also was appointed to the new city health board in 1919, was a chair for a Sioux Falls Russian Relief committee for people striken with poverty in the Volga/Ukraine area in 1923, served as women’s work chair for the Democratic state committee in 1924, was on the board of directors for the Y.W.C.A. in 1925 [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), January 27, 1923, August 13, 1924, January 10, 1925, October 30, 1929].

Belle Leavitt moved to Bronxville, New York in 1959 and died there in March 1963. She and Lewis have sparse Findagrave.com records for markers at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale CA [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), March 9, 1963; “Belle Pelton Leavitt,” Findagrave.com].