Edith Medbery Fitch

Edith Medbery Fitch was involved with the suffrage movement at least beginning in 1908, when she attended the National American Woman Suffrage Association meeting in Buffalo and presented South Dakota’s state report [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), October 15, 1908, November 5, 1908; November 12, 1908; November 19, 1908; Harriet Taylor Upton, Fortieth annual report of NAWSA, held at Buffalo, October 15th to 21st, inclusive, 1908 (Warren OH, 1908), 77, 170].  In 1909, Fitch served as vice-president of the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association (S.D.E.S.A.), and she lobbied the legislature with Nina Pettigrew and Rose Bower, going to Pierre “in the interest of suffrage” [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 14, 1909; RD06537, Fitch to Breeden, March 16, 1909, correspondence 1909, Jane Rooker Breeden papers, Richardson collection, USD].  In May 1909, she spoke for suffrage at the First district WCTU convention held at the Methodist church in Hudson, SD [Union County Courier (SD), April 29, 1909].

IN HER OWN WORDS: Letter to Jane Rooker Breeden (Pierre) about upcoming executive committee meeting [RD06537, correspondence 1909, Breeden papers, USD]:

“I told her [Alice Pickler] I would be able to go if the meeting were held in Faulkton as I could take my two children to mother’s, who lives a little way from there and go down from Gettysburg on the morning train.  I see no way possible for me to attend a conference at Pierre for I cannot take my children and it is impossible now for me to get anyone to leave them with.

I think it would be well to be very careful now and not decide things hastily.  I want to assure you that so far as I am concerned I have no pet schemes to work and so far as I am individually concerned I do not care where the Headquarters are placed or who is in charge.  My only interest is that the campaign may be conducted upon rational lines and that we get people to work for us who are able to move the political machinery.  Argument will not win the victory.”

In the spring of 1910, Fitch took a position in charge of press work / publicity for the S.D.E.S.A. (for Nana Gilbert who had to step down for health reasons) and was active in convincing newspaper editors to support suffrage and publish suffrage campaign material [Letter from Sheldon to Breeden, July 21, 1910, RD06729, correspondence 1910-07 to 1910-08, Breeden papers USD; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), August 16, 1910; Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 5, 1910].   She also held other positions with the state suffrage association.  In 1911, Fitch worked as campaign organizer for the southeast district [Husted et al. The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922), 588].  In 1912-1913, she was elected one of the organization’s auditors [Mitchell Capital (SD), August 1, 1912; July 10, 1913].

According to the Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), August 16, 1910:

“In her preliminary announcement, as chairman of the publicity bureau of the equal suffrage campaign in this state, Edith M. Fitch wants it understood that she ‘will not urge equal suffrage on the ground of “the wrongs of women,” nor because of the alleged purifying influence of women in politics, nor will she base the claim upon the fact that women who own property must pay taxes, nor yet as to whether or not women as a rule desire the right to vote.  She will place the campaign upon the allegation that it is fundamentally and intrinsically wrong to give the ballot to men and withhold It from women, and upon that proposition the campaign will be waged on the suffrage side.”

IN HER OWN WORDS: Campaign press material as published in the Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), September 2, 1910:

“There is more to the suffrage question than the mere right to vote. Women are now Ineligible to hold any office beyond those connected with the schools. A woman cannot even act as a clerk of election. Complaint is not made against this for the reason that women wish to hold office.  The experience of suffrage states show that they do not so aspire. But it is unworthy of the intelligent and chivalrous manhood of South Dakota, that women are declared legally incompetent for the responsibilities that are in the reach of the most ignorant immigrant.

What is the matter with you men who are so opposed to woman suffrage? What are you scared about? Do you really believe that homes would be destroyed and families broken up if women had the ballot? Do you honestly think that woman suffrage would be a menace to civilization? Of course you don’t. You are merely a trifle prejudiced against innovations. Any new proposition has to run the gauntlet of the conservatives. Only fifty years ago people were shocked at the idea of a woman going to college and five hundred years ago some wise men thought women did not have souls. It is up to the advocates of any new idea to show that it is good. The friends of woman suffrage are ready to defend their cause. They ask a fair consideration. Will you give it?

Last week the Minnehaha county teachers’ institute unanimously adopted resolution asking men to vote for the sufferage[sic] amendment in the fall election. The Pennington county institute did the same thing. When women get together and deliberate on this question they always ask for the ballot.”

“The lady who is chairman of the woman suffrage campaign press committee is not so slow to catch onto the political way of treating the newspapers.  She sends us every week enough ‘canned’ editorial on her pet subject to fill half a page, and in this she is only following in the path of her up-to-date brethren.”
Kingsbury County Independent (SD), September 23, 1910.

In an article she sent to The Woman’s Journal as re-printed in the Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), September 30, 1910:
“All over the state the suffragists are now working harmoniously and effectively. The Black Hills country and all of the western portion of the State are conceded to the Amendment. In the Southern counties. Rev. Henrietta Lyman of Pierre has done very fine work…. Miss Rose Bower, Mrs. Jeffries, Mrs. Pettigrew, Mr. French, Dr. Aylesworth, Mrs. Julius Johnson and Mrs. Jackson are all working faithfully in the field, beside other interested women, even in the remote corners of this great state. Among the newspapers there is little opposition and much help. All of the members of the Press Committee are active, and many columns of suffrage matter appear in the paper weekly. At no time since the Amendment was passed has the outlook for success been so favorable. A victory for South Dakota is a victory for every state. We believe that we are going to win.”

Fitch was also superintendent of Legislation and Franchise for the South Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) in 1911 [The Delineator 79 (April 1912), 289].  In her role with the W.C.T.U., she went to the legislature in 1912 to lobby for three bills, the first of which was for a universal suffrage amendment, and the other two were for a home partnership law (would give father and mother equal custodianship rights over their children) and a vice abatement law (would allow citizens to bring brothels up for closure under nuisance laws) [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 5, 1912].

As the state association was re-organized as the South Dakota Universal Franchise League in July 1912, Fitch was one of the signers of the new constitution of the organization [RD04998, Constitution of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League, Pyle Papers USD]. She was elected one of the auditors with Gertrude Walker and Ruth Hipple [Mitchell Capital (SD), August 1, 1912, July 10, 1913; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), August 1, 1912]. She again took on a position with publicity as district press chair for the 1914 campaign, editing a weekly column placed by the Yankton Universal Franchise League in the Press and Dakotan and the Dakota Herald [Sara Egge, Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870–1920 (Ames: University of Iowa Press, 2018), 1, 129].  She also worked as an organizer for the southeast district [The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), July 23, 1914].  In her writing, “Fitch argued that women deserved the right to vote because of their civic contributions to their communities…[that] ’the fullest participation of its citizens in the government is the best safeguard of liberty” and “If you are not a pro-German, we expect your vote this fall” [Egge, Woman Suffrage and Citizenship, 1; Nelson in Lahlum/Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box, 155-158].

She was the guest speaker at the meeting when the Mitchell Universal Franchise League was organized in April 1914 [Mitchell Capital (SD), April 30, 1914].

Edith Alma Medbery was born in June 1876 in Troy, Wisconsin to John W. Medbery and Mary Richmond who later homesteaded near Gettysburg, S.D.  She spent a number of years teaching in South Dakota and Wisconsin, and attending both Pierre College and Yankton College’s normal department.  She married George William Fitch in 1900 [South Dakota State Archives biographical files: “Edith Medbery Fitch”, copy of forward to Poems from the Prairies (1947); Catalogue of Alumni and Former Students of Yankton College (October 1913), 88].  In September 1905, after publishing the Wakonda Monitor for five years, the Fitchs took over management of the Turner County Herald newspaper in Hurley [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), August 31, 1905September 7, 1905].

They moved to Yankton by 1914 and Vermillion by 1927 [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), August 27, 1914, August 26, 1915, May 4, 1916, July 26, 1917; Pasque Petals 2(2) (June 1927), 3].

Fitch was also involved with the Rebekahs in 1906-1910, the Women’s Relief Corps in 1910-1911, and held several leadership positions with the local and district W.C.T.U. from 1909 to 1916 [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), August 30, 1906May 13, 1909January 6, 1910; March 3, 1910; January 26, 1911April 25, 1912; June 15, 1916].

Poems of Edith Medbery Fitch:

  • “The Runaway,” Pasque Petals 1(10) (February 1927), 3.
  • “Down Weigand Way,” Pasque Petals 2(2) (June 1927), 3.
  • “Patch Work,” Pasque Petals 2(6) (October 1927), 2.
  • “Mediocrity” and “Epilogue,” Pasque Petals 6(6) (October 1931), 81.
  • “Soul’s Raiment,” Pasque Petals 8(11) (March 1934), 225.
  • “The Miracle,” Pasque Petals 9(2) (June 1934), 19.
  • Her listing in: In Sixty Year Comprehensive Index of Pasque Petals 1926-1986, 78.

Fitch died in 1938 and was buried in Madison, Wisconsin where she lived at the end of her life [“Edith Medbery Fitch,” Find-a-grave.com; Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI), December 11, 1937].  After her death, a selection of her poems were published as Poems from the Prairies (Madison WI: Pamphlet Press, 1947) [worldcat.org record].