Marietta M. Bones

A key article about Bones:
Nancy Tystad Koupal. “Marietta Bones: Personality and Politics in the South Dakota Suffrage Movement.” In Yvonne Johnson, Ed. Feminist Frontiers: Women Who Shaped the Midwest (Kirksville MO: Truman State University Press, 2010), 69-82.


Marietta Bones of Webster was one of the most interesting characters of the South Dakota suffrage movement.  In the first years, she was one of its strongest supporters and had “succeeded in making the social question of temperance a political question in Dakota,” but after bitter fights with fellow advocates, particularly Susan B. Anthony, she not only broke with the movement but became an activist against suffrage [quote from “Prominent Suffragists,” in Mrs. John A. Logan, ed., The Part Taken by Women in American History (Wilmington DE: Perry-Nalle Publishing Co., 1912), 562].

Willard and Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches… (Buffalo NY: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893), 104-105

Marietta Wilkins was born in Clarion County, Pennsylvania in 1842 to James A. Wilkins, an abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad, and Jane Trumbell [Frances Elizabeth Willard, and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, eds., A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches accompanied by portraits of Leading American Women in all Walks of Life (Buffalo NY: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893), 104-105, includes a photo; Logan, The Part Taken by Women , 562].  She attended school at Huidekooper Seminary in Meadville, PA, and the female seminary in Washington, PA [Willard and Livermore, A Woman of the Century104-105].  She first married Kendall Parker but they divorced in 1876, and in 1881, she married Thomas Arthur Bones in Washington D.C. [“Marietta Matilda Wilkins Bones,” Find-a-Grave.com]

From 1881 to 1890, she was vice-president for Dakota under the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) [Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage vol. 3 (Rochester NY: Susan B Anthony, 1886), 956; Report of the sixteenth annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1884 (Rochester, N.Y. : National Woman Suffrage Association, 1884), 140; Willard and Livermore, 105].  She formed the first local suffrage association in the territory in 1885 [Wittmayer, “The 1889-1890 Woman Suffrage Campaign,” (1982), 202].

“We lack organization—the country being so sparsely settled, and such wide distances between towns, that the settlers are comparatively strangers to each other.”
In NWSA, Report of the Sixteenth Annual Washington Convention (Rochester NY: Charles Mann, 1884), 81.

In 1882, she spoke publicly for suffrage for the first time at the Fourth of July celebration in Webster [Willard and Livermore, 105].  That year, she represented Dakota Territory to the national suffrage convention in Omaha and, at Susan B. Anthony’s invitation, made an address to the convention [Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 22, 1882 and October 18, 1882].  In 1883, Bones and Matilda Joslyn Gage were the primary traveling lecturers advocating for suffrage in Dakota Territory.  They traveled by railroad, and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul company provided them rail passes.  At the 1883 statehood convention in Sioux Falls, Bones attended all the meetings of the committee on elections and spoke to the assembly for the inclusion of suffrage in the constitution (See text of her address as published in the Canton Advocate below) [Report of the sixteenth annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1884 (Rochester NY: Charles Mann, 1884), 81-82; Early History of Brown County, usgwarchives.net, p.186; Willard and Livermore, 105; Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 8, 1883; Kimball Graphic (SD), September 14, 1883; Canton Advocate (SD), September 20, 1883, et al.].

In 1883, Marietta M. Bones of Webster, vice-president for Dakota with the National Woman Suffrage Association, sent a written request to the convention president’s desk to be given 5 minutes to address the convention. When granted, she was escorted to president’s rostrum by M.M. Moulton of Day Co. Her address was quoted as:

“Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention—This honor conferred upon me, of being allowed to address you upon this important occasion, I assure you is fully appreciated, not only by my sex but by all unselfish and freedom-loving people.  I am here to appeal to your justice in behalf of the women of our territory, who are opposed to being left in our state organization with no more authority in self government than have the paupers and the idiots.  We are willing to do one-half of the manual labor in the country and will promptly pay our portion of the taxes.  As for sobriety and peaceable citizens—you know in this we favorably compare with male citizens. 

Here I have the honor to present to you a petition signed by hundreds of Day county voters, praying your honorable body to not allow the word ‘male’ to be incorporated within our state constitution.  There is no doubt that this petition speaks the honest sentiment of the people throughout the territory.  In but a single instance was I refused a name, and in a second case a man hesitated, saying, ‘Well, now, if it’s as many rights you’re wantin’ es I hev got fur meself, you’ll be after signin’ my name fur me—fur I niver do any writin’ at all fur meself.’ And yet that man, whose name I had to write, has more rights in this his adopted country than I and all other women have in this our native land. The right of franchise, which has here tofore been regarded as a privilege, should be more considered a right and a duty which should be exercised by every citizen for the public good. If there is not another woman in Dakota who wants to vote, I do! and have my opinion of the men who deny me this great privilege which they demand for themselves. There is no doubt that many women are indifferent upon this subject, but when once given the ballot you will then see that their progress will equal if not exceed that of the emancipated slaves in the south.

Look at Wyoming territory, where woman suffrage has had a fair test, and no one will deny it has proved a marked success. Elections there now are conducted with quiet and are more orderly than they are elsewhere. Before the enfranchisement of Wyoming, election days were a terror generally, being both boisterous and riotous. It is really true that Dakota men are the most energetic and enterprising anywhere to be found, and in number they largely exceed our women.

Gentlemen, make this the most advantageous state for women and they will soon be wending their way hither. Woman suffragists have been granted select committees in both houses of congress, and, better still, each of those committees has given us a majority report in favor of a sixteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, prohibiting the disfranchisement of citizens on account of sex. Gentlemen, delegates of this state constitutional convention, I now appeal to your highest sense of honor and justice, with all the earnestness of my woman’s heart—give us the right to vote—give it to us, not because we possess any particular merit, but give it to us because it is our right! Then Dakota will in fact lie ‘a home of the free,’ —honored by all nations, and the banner state of the union. [Applause.]
The address and petition were referred to the committee on elections and suffrage.”
Canton Advocate (SD), September 20, 1883

In one of the first cases showing her strong personality, when the proposed state constitution did not include suffrage, she petitioned the U.S. Congress to deny Dakota’s statehood [Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), April 17, 1884; Willard and Livermore, 105].  In one news account, the editor wrote that Bones, “the untamed female suffragist of the Day county prairies,” wants no statehood without suffrage and “is publishing articles in opposition to the statehood movement.”  The editor also published that she “deplores the expense of the constitutional convention,” but then asserted to readers that delegates were not paid, implying that she was lying to disparage the convention  [Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), August 4, 1885].

For the 1885 statehood convention, Bones wrote a letter to the delegates advocating for suffrage.  An editor of the Kimball Graphic (generally anti-suffrage) reported that Bones’ letter “in bad English, protested vigorously against the injustice shown her sex, and entreated the convention to immortalize themselves by granting women the right to use the ballot.  The communication was referred, amid laughter, to the committee on elections and right of suffrage” […amid laughter… grrr — Kimball Graphic (SD), October 2, 1885].  Another paper from Yankton noted that she had been kept from attending the convention in person because of childbirth [Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), October 3, 1885].

Extracts from a copy of her letter in the Yankton newspaper:
“Give us equality—not to make us manly—but more womanly; we do not aspire to being the ‘head of the family,’ but are honest and just enough to let each individual possess a ‘head’ of their own.”
“what can your convention do more than to make this the grandest state in the union for woman?  Then will they emigrate here by thousands, to a land where they are not taxed without a voice in what their money is to be used for”
“Gentlemen of the convention, do yourselves honor in bestowing upon oppressed woman all the privileges in law that you so much enjoy, and thus immortalize your names in the third volume of woman suffrage history now being edited…. this country is not governed by the consent of the people, and cannot be with one-half of its citizens disfranchised—it is in no sense a republican form of government, and is as aptly said by Matilda Joslyn Gage: ‘The ballot is consent.'”
Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 21, 1885.

Bones was concerned about the national WCTU allying with the Prohibition Party, and instead supported a splinter Union that was committed to non-partisanship [Minneapolis Tribune (MN), January 21, 1890].

In 1890, she also objected to merging the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, and she was afterwards dismissed from the resulting National American Woman Suffrage Association by Susan B. Anthony [Indianapolis Journal (IN), February 21, 1890; Nancy Tystad Koupal, Our Landlady (1999), 11, 198].  She further fought with Anthony over finances.  South Dakota delegates had attended the national suffrage convention in 1889 to ask for funding to conduct their campaign leading up to suffrage being on the public ballot in November 1890.  NAWSA promised funding, but back in South Dakota, the campaign plan was to do advocacy work through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Anthony refused to turn over the NAWSA funds to the state suffrage association just to have them given to the WCTU.  Bones publicly accused Anthony of embezzlement [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory v.3 (1915), 766; Koupal, Our Landlady, 11, 198].  Anthony responded to Bones and others’ accusations of financial mismanagement in the St. Paul Daily Globe (MN), April 13, 1890.

“Of course Miss Anthony and Mrs. Bones do not dwell in any great sisterly love, but they should put blinds over their eyes while working in double harness, until after the result is decided.”
St. Paul Daily Globe (MN), April 3, 1890.

“Susan B. Anthony should come out to South Dakota, and put in her oar in the suffrage contest.  She knows how to rattle the Bones.”
St. Paul Daily Globe (MN), April 14, 1890.

Bones told the Minneapolis Tribune that she refused to attend the 1890 suffrage convention in Mitchell “owing to the presence of ‘Commander-in-chief Anthony.'”
Minneapolis Tribune (MN), August 24, 1890.

Bones — “[Anthony] dominates in running the campaign by spinisters[sic] and motherless foreign women who have no mission at home to fill”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), August 26, 1890.

In October 1890, Bones was invited to Pierre at the same time that Anthony and Laura Johns were also visiting.  Bones, as a “famous temperance and woman suffrage advocate” was given a reception at the Locke Hotel [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 16, 1890, pg.1; pg.2].

When the suffrage amendment failed at the 1890 election, Bones published that she thought the reason was that “anti-prohibitionists were solid against it”; that the campaign had started too soon — “the subject was completely exhausted and actually became tedious to its friends”; and that “there is not a doubt that the domineering and avaricious Susan B. Anthony everywhere lessened our chances for victory.  Her management (as it did in Nebraska in 1883) only tended to concentrate opposition against the movement, rather than secure us votes” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 17, 1890].

Bones came into direct conflict with local members of the WCTU and Women’s Relief Corps [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory v.3 (1915), 768].  In 1891, after thirty women in Webster printed an accusation that she had “published  ‘lies and scandal against them,'” she sued the thirty women, the Aberdeen Republican, and the Andover Gazette for libel in the amount of $50,000 [Madison Daily-Leader (SD), June 20, 1891; Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), June 26, 1891; Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory v.3 (1915), 768].  The conflict was a public one.  The Herald Advance in Milbank published an article titled “A Women’s War” after a reporter went to ask her about the lawsuit.  In the account, she indicates that there were several personal issues with the other unnamed women in Webster as well, saying “the wrath of hypocrites therein is all turned upon me” — “Mrs. Bones emphasized her remarks in a manner that left no room for doubt that war was declared… she is a woman of more than ordinarily aggressive character, and if you cast a look over in the direction of Day county you will probably see the smoke of the conflict as it progresses” [Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), June 26, 1891].

Bones had begun actively campaigning against suffrage by 1892, saying “she ‘never saw more political wirepulling among men that there is among the woman suffragists.'” [Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), June 16, 1892; Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), June 24, 1892; Omaha Daily Bee (NE), June 19, 1892; (quote) Indianapolis Journal (IN), June 24, 1892]. 

Later living in Yankton and Washington D.C., she actively campaigned against suffrage in 1897-1898 and 1900 and “remained the enemy of the movement until the day of her death” offering her D.C. home as an anti-suffrage headquarters [Evening Star (Washington DC), April 7, 1900; Quote from Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory v.3 (1915), 770; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), July 29, 1898; The Black Hills Union (Rapid City SD), July 18, 1901; Madison Daily-Leader (SD), July 12, 1901; citing The Evening Star Friday, July 12, 1901, “Bones,” Find-a-Grave.com].

In 1898, Bones wrote editorials for the newspapers opposing suffrage–saying “agitators are principally spinsters or childless women.” She invited anti-suffragist Elizabeth Crannell from Albany NY to tour South Dakota and speak in opposition to the pending suffrage amendment. She also contributed an article for a symposium set in the Monthly South Dakotan in which she claimed “that women are represented at the polls by their husbands. She felt that voting would endanger the home, for only idle maidens would have time to vote, and responsible mothers would have to worry about their husbands at the polls with those idle women” [Omaha Daily Bee (NE), November 16, 1897; James D. McLaird, “Dakota Resources: The Monthly South Dakotan,” South Dakota History 11(1) (1981), 71; Nelson in Lahlum/Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box, 140, 145].


In other aspects of her life…

In 1882-1883, Bones worked as deputy clerk of the district court at Webster, Day County [Press & Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), May 24, 1883; Early History of Brown County, usgwarchives.net, p.186].

She was involved with the founding of the library in Webster [Canton Advocate (SD), January 3, 1884].

She supported state laws permitting easy divorces “that inharmonious wedlock may be smashed in South Dakota p.d.q.” [Kimball Graphic (SD), January 21, 1899].

In her work for temperance, she was secretary of the first Non-partisan WCTU convention in Chicago in 1889 [Wittmayer, 202].  Helen M. Barker and the Webster WCTU removed her from their local branch for aligning with the Non-Partisan political party rather than avoiding affiliation with any political party [Willard and Livermore, 105].

She assisted Matilda Joslyn Gage with organizing the Woman’s National Liberal Union and served on its executive council [Willard and Livermore, 105; Citing The Evening Star Friday, July 12, 1901, “Bones,” Find-a-Grave.com].