Nettie C. Hall

Nettie Crabb was born in 1841 in Brownstown, Indiana [Jackson County Banner (Brownstown, IN), January 3, 1906].  She first married Dr. Robert L. Weems, a Civil War surgeon, but was widowed by 1880 [The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 7, 1907; Cam M. Jordan and Sherri K. Butler, Fitzgerald (Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010), 81].  She spent time in Bird Island, Minnesota working as a milliner and claiming land in 1881 [Jordan and Butler, Fitzgerald, 81; Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, History of Renville County, Minnesota, vol. 1 (Chicago: H.C. Cooper Jr & Co., 1916), 102].

Nettie C. Weems came to homestead in the Wessington Springs area of Dakota Territory in February 1882 as a widow and “well skilled in her profession” of medicine [Ann D. Gordon, The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (2009), 333; Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), April 7, 1883; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), February 1, 1884].  In 1884, she married Cleveland T. Hall, a Civil War veteran, but he died in 1886 of poor health stemming from the wounds he received during the war [Jordan and Butler, Fitzgerald, 81]. 

In 1887 and 1888, Hall was elected a school trustee for Wessington Springs township. For the position, she claimed expenses for traveling to meetings, postage and stationary, and providing kindling and coal to the school. She complained about the absenteeism of the male trustees. For both elections, she publicized that she had not run for office [Jones, “The Women Voted,” in Lahlum/Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 203-204]. In 1888, Hall was also reportedly the first woman to serve as election judge [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), June 29, 1888; Jones, “The Women Voted,” 204].

In November 1889, Nettie C. Hall was elected vice-president of the Jerauld County Equal Suffrage Association and served on the constitution/by-laws committee at their convention [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 6, 1889, April 25, 1890].  She distributed campaign literature for the township vice-presidents Dr. Mathias’ drug store [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), May 23, 1890]. The next year, she presided over the county suffrage convention held at the Seminary Chapel [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), May 16, 1890].

Hall was involved with the state association work in June 1890 during the leadership shifts. One of the Jerauld Co. delegates to the July 1890 suffrage convention in Huron, she even received a few votes during the election for a new president [Page 44 : The Convention, and The Dakota Ruralist, July 19, 1890, “Page 44 : Entire Page,” Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10; Madison Daily Leader (SD), June 24, 1890; The Daily Plainsman (Huron, SD), July 10, 1890; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), July 11, 1890].

In the summer of 1890, Hall headed to Nebraska to campaign for  temperance but in the latter part of August, she also spent ten days organizing for suffrage in Yankton County, visiting Wakonda, Volin, Mission Hill, Walstrom, and Lesterville, largely on horseback [Dakota Ruralist, August 16, 1890, “Page 57 : Entire Page,” Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), August 22, 1890; Egge, “Ethnicity and Woman Suffrage,” in Lahlum/Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 223-224].  She organized a small club in Volin (a Scandinavian area) and had a good audience at a Farmers Alliance gathering, but was refused a place to speak by German Catholics in Lesterville — “she admitted that she ‘would have stood on the street and talked if anyone would’ have listened” [Sara Egge, Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870–1920 (Ames: University of Iowa Press, 2018), 102; Egge, “’When we get to voting’: rural women, community, gender, and woman suffrage in the Midwest,” graduate thesis, Iowa State University (2012), 130-132; and Egge, “Ethnicity and Woman Suffrage,” 218].

Hall attended the state suffrage convention in Mitchell in August 1890 as one of the state campaign speakers and she made “a good collection speech to which there was a generous response” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), August 8, 1890; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), August 15, 1890, September 12, 1890; “Page 48 : Entire Page,” and “Page 51 : 1890 South Dakota Equal Suffrage Mass Convention program,” Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10]. She was elected as superintendent of election work and was part of the committee that requested the chance to speak for suffrage at the subsequent Republication state convention [Mitchell Capital (SD), August 8, 1890, August 29, 1890, page 1, and August 29, 1890, page 4Wessington Springs Herald (SD), September 12, 1890].  In her role for election work, she publicized ideas for local campaign activities including house-to-house canvassing, distributing literature, holding a prayer meeting before polls open, holding a children’s parade, posting banners and mottoes on the walls of polling places, and having jubilee picnics on election day [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), September 26, 1890].

IN HER OWN WORDS: After the disappointing reception of suffrage advocates by the Republican state convention in Mitchell 1890, when a few tribal representatives were granted seats on the convention floor, Hall wrote in a letter to the “Women of South Dakota” [with ethnocentric racism far too common of the period]:

“The battle to-day, my sisters, means more to us than that of last October.  It means that our girls shall stand an equal chance with our boys in life’s battles.  It means that the mother love of South Dakota shall breathe upon the laws of our state.  It means that 70,000 women shall have a fair swing at life as well as on the scaffold.  While our brothers have not been unmindful of the political needs and demands of all other classes and conditions of the people of our state, even to the dusky inhabitants of the wigwam who were lately voted the courtesy of the floor in one of our political conventions, they have left us outside the fold as political orphans.  With these facts staring us in the face, we fully realize that we women and we alone, must fight it out on this line, and everything hinges on the work of the women on election day.”

[Page 004 : Letter addressed to “Women of South Dakota,” September 15, 1890, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1892-1894 (Scrapbook C), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 9; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), September 26, 1890]

In September 1890, state superintendent of election work from SDESA Headquarters in Room 9 of the Hills Block Huron, Hall published to the Women of South Dakota a letter encouraging committees to canvass each voting precinct and hold meetings, for young women to provide refreshments, have prayer meeting before the polls open on election day, “have the bells rung every hour to encourage those at the front,” “have the children out on parade three times during the day, out of school hours, with their flags, banners, mottoes and suffrage songs,” send to W.F. Bailey (SDESA secretary) for song books and copies of mottoes to put up at polling places, have picnics near polling places in the country with basket dinners and suffrage songs, and serve lunch or coffee and sandwiches. She referred readers to the book of Numbers ch.27 for “account of old time women’s rights rally,… read it and then with a heart trusting in the same God, and with all womanly modesty and dignity, go up before the congregation of the Princes of South Dakota, and present your just cause, and that same Good will give us the victory.  Yours for human rights, Nettie C. Hall” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), September 26, 1890; October 3, 1890; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), October 23, 1890].

In late October to early November 1890, she went on a lecture tour through Lincoln County, with scheduled stops at Stoner school, Pioneer, Millbrook, Mt. Zion church, a school near Pleasant View, Kinsley school, Kirley school, and Springdale [Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), October 31, 1890].

At a suffrage convention held in Huron after amendment failed at the polls, she was elected treasurer but soon resigned the position, and was named a delegate to the national convention [Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 12, 1890, image 3; The Daily Plainsman (Huron, SD), November 10, 1890; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), November 14, 1890].

In May 1891, she wrote a column “To the Women of Jerauld County” about voting in school elections — “Let every woman take up the ballot at school elections as a duty, and enter this open door…” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), May 15, 1891].

In the summer and fall of 1891, she worked as superintendent of legislation, petitions and franchise for the Jerauld County Women’s Christian Temperance Union [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), July 24, 1891; November 6, 1891].  In 1893, she was part of the program of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association convention held in Lake City, MN [Princeton Union (MN), August 24, 1893].

Dr. Hall was a territorial/state organizer for the temperance movement.  She served as the president of her county W.C.T.U., served as W.C.T.U. superintendent of hygiene for several years, lectured for the W.C.T.U. around Dakota Territory and beyond, advocated for prohibition at the 1889 statehood convention, organized in rural areas of opposition like the Germans from Russia communities around Tripp, S.D., and conducted schools of methods for fellow campaigners. She was described in that capacity as “well qualified by ability, tact and experience” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), June 28, 1889]. [For examples of her W.C.T.U. work:  Wessington Springs Herald (SD), June 27, 1884, September 26, 1884, June 26, 1885July 3, 1885, September 17, 1886, August 12, 1887, October 14, 1887, page 1, October 14, 1887, page 8, March 23, 1888June 28, 1889, May 30, 1890; Mitchell Capital (SD), September 7, 1888St. Paul Daily Globe (SD), September 22, 1888; The Black Hills Union (Rapid City SD), November 1, 1889; Minutes of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (1889), 295-296Sully County Watchman (Onida SD), December 5, 1891]. 

In 1891, Hall became an elected member of the Farmers’ Alliance in Wessington Springs and was a ‘prominent attendee’ at an Independent party picnic that September [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), April 3, 1891, September 11, 1891].  In Wessington Springs, Hall ran a pharmacy that she took proprietorship of after the death of Dr. A.M. Mathias, that sold “no intoxicants” and she was reportedly “the only woman in the State who conducts a drug store” [The Woman’s Column (Boston MA), October 15, 1892; Dunham, History of Jerauld County (1909), 230].  In 1893,

In about 1895, she left South Dakota to move to a new planned community of Union and Confederate veterans in Fitzgerald, Georgia [Dunham, History of Jerauld County (1909), 244; Ann D. Gordon, The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (2009), 333].  There, she became the influential publisher and editor of Fitzgerald’s first newspaper, The Enterprise, and continued pharmacy work [Rachel Foster Avery, ed., Proceedings of the 30th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (Philadelphia: Alfred J. Ferris, 1898), 90].  In Fitzgerald, she continued active support of women’s suffrage, the W.C.T.U., the Women’s Relief Corps, and the Order of the Eastern Star, and she became known for her support of railroad workers–her first son Victor, a railway engineer, had died of exposure when a train he was on was caught snowbound in Minnesota [Avery, ed., Proceedings (1898), 90Jackson County Banner (Brownstown, IN), January 3, 1906; Waycross Evening Herald (GA), July 7, 1906The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 7, 1907; Tifton Gazette (GA), June 19, 1908; Lula Barnes Ansley, History of the Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from its Organization, 1883 to 1907 (Columbus GA: Gilbert Printing Co., 1914), 214; Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902), 582Fitzgerald Commercial Historic District, Ben Hill County, Georgia, NRIS #92000383, Section 8, page 14; Jordan and Butler, Fitzgerald, 81].

Photo of Hall in Cam M. Jordan and Sherri K. Butler, Fitzgerald (Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

Rail employees and the W.C.T.U. paid for Hall’s funeral in 1908 and dedicated a stone fountain in 1910 in downtown Fitzgerald to her as “Mother Enterprise”–“she became a living legend, and her voice was the voice of the Colony City itself, fiercely proud and self-reliant” [Brian Brown, “Mother Enterprise Drinking Fountain, 1908, Fitzgerald,” and “Fountain Detail,” June 7, 2009, Vanishing South Georgia; “Architectural Treasures Tour,” City of Fitzgerald, Georgia; “Nettie Crab Hall,” Find-a-grave.com].  At the time of the memorial fountain’s dedication, the newspaper reports described that Hall had “devoted a large part of her time to the services of the poor and unfortunate, looking after their moral and physical welfare, and was beloved by everyone in the city” [Atlanta Constitution (GA), March 2, 1910].