Jane Rooker Smith was born in 1853 to James Rooker Smith and Sarah McCann who had immigrated from England and eventually settled in Arcola, Illinois. In 1883, she married attorney James Knox Breeden. In 1892, they homesteaded a claim in Stanley County [Jane Rooker Breeden Papers 1853-1955, MS-024, Richardson Collection-USD]. Breeden was a teacher, assisted in her husband’s law office, and was active in the temperance movement. They moved across the river to Pierre in 1896, where she was active in many of the local women’s and literary clubs, playing a key role in getting Pierre’s Carnegie Library built [Kathryn Otto, “Dakota Resources: The Jane Breeden Papers at the South Dakota Historical Resource Center,” South Dakota History 10(3) (1980), 241-244; Obituary, Daily Capital Journal (Pierre SD), August 8 and August 15, 1955]. The Breedens lived at 910 Euclid Ave [Letter Minnie Barton (Dennett’s secretary) NAWSA to Breeden, August 9, 1910, RD06743, correspondence 1910-07 to 1910-08, Breeden papers USD].
Breeden believed that “the ballot was the foremost means by which women’s influence could be translated into public action, and from that time the effort she expended in civic affairs was chiefly directed toward obtaining equal suffrage for women” [Otto, “Dakota Resources: The Jane Breeden Papers, citing “Daughters of Dakota,” South Dakota Historical Collections 33 :76].
Breeden was president of the Pierre Equal Suffrage Association and, from 1916 to 1918, was secretary of the Hughes County Universal Franchise League [Otto, “Dakota Resources: The Jane Breeden Papers; SD UFL letterhead, Mamie Shields Pyle correspondence, Box 2, Correspondence, 1918, April 15-22, RD08744, and Whitcher to Pyle, December 29, 1916, RD07480, correspondence 1910-1916, Pyle papers USD; RD06882, correspondence 1914-1933, Breeden papers USD].
For the state organization, Breeden was auditor in 1895, on the legislative committee and superintendent of literature in 1896-1898, chair of the Press Committee in 1897, auditor with Ruby J. Smart in 1907-1909, and on the publicity committee in 1910 [Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, MN), September 18, 1895; Mitchell Capital (SD), September 20, 1895; et al.; Otto, “Dakota Resources: The Jane Breeden Papers; Avery, ed., Proceedings of the 28th Annual Convention of the NAWSA (Philadelphia: Alfred J. Ferris, 1896), 158; Avery, ed., Proceedings of the 29th Annual Convention (1897), 93; Ellis, History of Faulk County (1909), 245 and 254; RD06516, Box 1, Correspondence 1895 – 1898, 1907 and Votes for Women Campaign Publicity Campaign letterhead, RD06634, Box 1, Correspondence 1910, May, Breeden correspondence, Richardson Collection-USD].
In 1895, she gave her auditor’s report and a paper on “Legislative Work” for the SDESA annual convention held in Pierre [Sioux City Journal (IA), September 6, 1895]. In 1897, she and Anna R. Simmons were “constantly on duty” during the six weeks of the state legislative session, with assistance from Henrietta Lyman, Emma Cranmer, and Carrie Dollard. She and Cranmer were invited to speak from the Senate platform and were reportedly “listened to with much courtesy and attention” by the senators as well as others from the House, state offices, and clerks who came in to hear them [The Woman’s Column 10(12) (March 20, 1897), 3].
Breeden was a delegate to the 1897 state suffrage convention in Mitchell. After a talk by Alice Pickler, Breeden questioned the “propriety of associating prohibition with the present subject”—an interesting departure from past approaches. President Anna Simmons affirmed that suffrage was “the main and sole object” of the convention, but that all W.C.T.U. were welcome to “join the movement.” Breeden also served as a judge for the oratory contest held during the convention [Mitchell Capital (SD), October 1, 1897]. Breeden was also a delegate to the state convention in Aberdeen in June 1909 [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), June 17, 1909].
After Gov. Buchtel of Colorado made an address against suffrage in Pierre, it was reported that he had since “been hauled over the coals by Miss Bower and Mrs. Breeden… The South Dakota women, both of whom are working strong for the adoption of the measure in this state, presented a different line of testimony than that offered by the Colorado governor to show that the better women of Colorado did take advantage of the ballot” [Mitchell Capital (SD), March 4, 1909]. Breeden also distributed literature at the Congregational church conference in Pierre, while Lydia Johnson made an address to request endorsement for the suffrage amendment [Page 3, Bulletin – votes for women, c1910, RA08434, Pyle Papers, USD].
“Women generally and especially those who attempt to do civic work begin to realize the power and value of a vote. Let us hope that South Dakota women will become voters while our state is young and in its formative period.” By Jane Rooker Breeden in Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), April 15, 1909.
Another message by her was printed in the Woman’s Journal in 1910 encouraging support for the campaign. As reprinted in Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City), September 23, 1910:
“If the women of this state who are now convinced that they ought to be enfranchised will say so, and each do something toward bringing it about the amendment is bound to carry. Permit me to say that each South Dakota woman so convinced should hold it as a point of honor and conscience to assist in the campaign by either speaking to her neighbors, distributing literature, writing for the papers, contributing money or in giving aid in whatever way she best can in doing the strenuous work that must be done within the coming few weeks, if we women of the state are going to gasp the opportunity offered by this peaceful elective method to obtain the political liberty and rights of full citizenship which men in all ages have held to dear, and fought, suffered, and died to gain. Our needs and wishes as individuals, as wives, mothers, breadwinners, philanthropists, plain, simple, self-respecting women, should prompt us to make all the effort we can to secure the recognition and power of full citizenship.”
In the 1916 campaign, Breeden served as secretary of the Hughes County Universal Franchise League [Carrie H. Whitcher to Pyle, December 29, 1916, RA07480, Box 1, Correspondence, 1910, April – 1916, December, Pyle Papers, USD].
After her husband’s death in 1937, she and her daughter Marjorie moved to California in 1938. Breeden died in Compton, California in 1955 and was buried in Pierre at Riverside Cemetery [Obituary, Daily Capital Journal (Pierre SD), August 8, 1955; “Jane Rooker Smith Breeden,” Riverside Cemetery, Pierre, Find-a-Grave.com].