Florence Jeffries

Florence Sutton was born in 1854 (in Ohio or Illinois [census records]) [“Florence Sutton Jeffries,” Find-a-grave.com]. She married Johnston Jeffries and they eventually had nine children [1900 and 1910 census]. The Jeffries’ came to Dakota Territory from Illinois in 1882 and settled in Clark County. In 1890, they came to the Fort Pierre area when the Great Sioux Reservation was broken apart and lands put up for sale to American settlers [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 27, 1916; William D. Nix, “Zay Jeffries, 1888-1965,” Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences, 2013]. Her husband Johnston had been postmaster at Willow Lake in 1885, editor of the Fort Pierre Fair Play in 1890 [Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), November 3, 1885; Black Hills Union (Rapid City SD), May 16, 1890].

In September 1895, Jeffries gave an address of welcome from the local club at the state convention in Pierre. The second day of the convention, she made a report as superintendent of equal suffrage contest work [Sioux City Journal (IA), September 6, 1895].

In 1897, Jeffries continued as superintendent of contest work for the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association (SDESA) and participated in the state convention in Mitchell [Mitchell Capital (SD), September 17, 1897; September 24, 1897].

In 1906, she was corresponding secretary for the SDESA and served through 1909 [1906 NAWSA convention proceedings, 144, 167; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), March 14, 1907; Aberdeen Democrat (SD), September 20, 1907; Forest City Press (SD), September 5, 1907; Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention of NAWSA, held at Chicago, February 14th to 19th, inclusive, 1907 (Warren OH: Wm. Ritezel & Co., 1907), 167; Upton, Fortieth annual report of the NAWSA [Convention], held at Buffalo, October 15th to 21st, inclusive, 1908 (Warren OH, 1908), 195; Box 1, Correspondence 1909, RD06529, Breeden Papers USD]. At the 1909 convention in Aberdeen, she was named superintendent of petition [Box 1, Correspondence 1909, RD06565, Breeden Papers USD]. In the 1910 campaign, Jeffries served on the state campaign’s finance committee [RD06598, correspondence 1910, Breeden papers USD].

She also was elected in 1907 and 1909 to be state delegate to the national suffrage conventions. In 1907, she was elected a delegate with Jane Waldron, also of Ft. Pierre. In 1910, she attended with Lorena K. Fairbank, Jane Waldron, and Jane’s daughter Isle. While in D.C. for the convention, she and Waldron brought a petition asking for a federal suffrage amendment [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), February 14, 1907; Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention of NAWSA (1907), 35, 40, 144; 42nd annual report of NAWSA, given at the Convention, held at Washington, D.C., April 14 to 19, inclusive (New York, 1910), 185; Page 3, Bulletin – votes for women, c1910, RA08434, Pyle Papers, USD]; Philip Weekly Review (SD), April 21, 1910].

In the summer of 1910, she campaigned with Rose Bower in Rapid City, Hot Springs, and Deadwood [Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), July 22, 1910, September 30, 1910; Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), August 11, 1910; Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), August 18, 1910].

I’m not sure what to make of this story, based on the limited information provided, but it’s interesting and shares a bit about Jeffries’ life outside the suffrage movement:

“Rapid City Aug 2 – ‘Suffrage Leaders’ Name Led Reporter into Trouble’ Because her name coincided with the names of the principals in a recent sporting event of renown, a suffraget here lost her temper and a local reporter his job.  Far from being an aggressive, pugilistic sort of suffrage worker, Mrs. Jeffries is distinctly a home maker.  Her life has been spent on a farm which has made the family rich, and she is proud of the fact that she has reared eight sons and a daughter, all grown and all residents of South Dakota.  But these facts were overlooked by an over-enthused reporter when he learned that the front name of Mrs. Jeffries’ husband is Johnson.  Mrs. Johnson Jeffries—the name got on his nerves—and when he was detailed to write her meeting for the Rapid City Journal he thought he was the sporting writer about to attain fame by tackling a national event.  He described her speech by rounds and caused the speaker to seek the editor with a protest.  The editor employing the facetious reporter was a woman—Mrs. Gossage—and that settled it.  While it ended in a draw the reporter lost a little money on the event.”
The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), August 4, 1910; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), August 4, 1910.

In September 1910, she and Mrs. Cole set up a suffrage booth at the Stanley County Fair in Kadoka, offering visitors sample ballots and a mock vote activity [Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), September 29, 1910; Madison Daily Leader (SD), September 30, 1910].

After the defeat of the suffrage amendment in November 1910, NAWSA encouraged South Dakota state suffragists to try to organize a quasi-political party to advance the legal status of women with or without suffrage. Jeffries participated in the meeting at the capitol in Pierre and was part of the committee tasked with selecting a name and organizing a platform, and the publicity committee [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), February 16, 1911, February 23, 1911; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 24, 1911]. “‘Some of the papers call it “The Woman’s Party,”‘ said Mrs. Jeffries, ‘but we object to this name because we want to eliminate the word “sex” from politics.’ The fact that women can hold so many of the state offices according to our state constitution has given the new movement an impetus that is very gratifying to its promoters” [Lead Daily Call (SD), February 25, 1911]. They did ask Governor Vessey to name a woman to the state board of charities and corrections (which had authority to report on the operation of jails, special schools [reform, deaf, blind…], state hospitals, etc.) and they promoted the idea that women should run for any and all state offices that they could hold [Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 24, 1911; Argus Leader (Sioux Falls SD), November 13, 1911].

IN HER OWN WORDS: By Florence Jeffries of Fort Pierre and printed in the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls SD), November 13, 1911. [Best I could interpret from OCR text]:

“I was called from [illegible] and did not see your editorial until my attention was called to it. No doubt you have been set right on the initiative ere this will reach you. You are [illegible] of many men who think our [illegible] lies to constitutional matters. Oregon’s does but South Dakota’s doesn’t. Women have made pages of history in this state that will never be written. We tramped the streets and went out into the byways to secure the necessary number of names, presented them to the secretary of state; he refused to [illegible] them without mandamus proceeding. It was getting late in the session. We had no money. It was then we learned that our law was not like Oregon’s. We agree with you, the vote must be changed, but it doesn’t take years to change from democratic & republican majorities and vice versa. One of our congressmen who has served us well for years said to us in Washington last year: ‘[illegible] and I always have on the woman suffrage question. When they really want the ballot they will get it.’ In other words when the men find out that we want the ballot they will give it to us. Nothing will convince them so quickly as getting out and helping the men to elect the right kind of a legislature in 1912. They did this in California and the New York women are now taking written statements from candidates instead of verbal as they once did. There is something more to make the next campaign of great interest to women. We are entitled to at least one woman on each state ticket. The offices most desirable for women are, secretary of state and superintendent of schools. The present incumbent in the latter office is making good, hence, he should be re-elected. Why can’t we have a woman for secretary of state. Governor Vessey told the eastern people that he had left the affairs of state in the hands of a woman during his absence and he had no fears about the result [illegible] thank you for the interest you are taking in our cause. We could not hope to win without the aid of the newspapers. . , Florence S. Jeffries. Fort Pierre. S. D.”


In 1892, Florence Jeffries lived in East Pierre, and her family started a ranch in Stanley County [The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), September 2, 1892; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), November 17, 1904].

Jeffries was involved with the W.C.T.U. at a district level [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), April 19, 1894; May 16, 1895; June 23, 1904; June 13, 1907; June 4, 1908].

She also served on the state executive committee of the Dry Farming Congress [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), July 28, 1910; Saturday News (Watertown SD), July 29, 1910].

Her family’s ranch house burned down in 1912 [Bad River News (Philip SD), January 4, 1912].

Later, the family moved to Danbury, Wisconsin [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 27, 1916, February 3, 1916]. Her son Zay Jeffries was prominent in the field of geology/engineering [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), June 27, 1918; Philip Weekly Review (SD), January 4, 1912; “Zay Jeffries,” Wikipedia].

By 1920, she had returned to Fort Pierre [1920 census]. In 1922, she was appointed justice of the peace by the Fort Pierre city commissioners– and “henceforth will preside over a local court and dispense justice to offenders who violate the city ordinances.  She is one of the first women in the state to be appointed to such a position and is expected to make a good record in the performance of its duties.” [Mitchell Evening Republican (SD), May 12, 1922].

Florence Jeffries passed away in 1925 and was buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery west of Fort Pierre [“Florence Sutton Jeffries,” Find-a-grave.com; “Cedar Hill Cemetery,” Pierre/Fort Pierre Historic Preservation Commission].

Rose-laying for state suffrage centennial, photo by author, November 6, 2018.