Rose Bower

Rose Bower was born in May 1873 in Vermillion, South Dakota; her family being among the earliest settlers coming in 1870 from Lodi, Wisconsin [Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965; “Rose Bower,” Find-a-Grave.com; Maxwell Van Nuys, “Genuine Original Photographs of the Bower Family Band,” South Dakota History 31(2) (2001), 114].  Her paternal grandparents had been abolitionists [Van Nuys, 115].  Her aunt Lida taught her music, and she grew up part of the popular Bower Family Band [Laura Bower Van Nuys, The Family Band: From the Missouri to the Black Hills, 1881-1900 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961), 46].  They came to the Black Hills from Vermillion in 1885 [Van Nuys, “Genuine Original,” 113; Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965].  She later attended the Chicago Musical College, the New England Conservatory of Music, and other higher education training [Van Nuys, The Family Band, 252; Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965].  In early adulthood, she worked as a teacher [Hot Springs Star (SD), October 16, 1891].  In 1903, she worked as city librarian and lived with her sister Laura in an apartment behind the library rooms in the Flormann Block, but resigned in 1904 and her sister took over as librarian [“RCPL History Timeline,” City of Rapid City – Laura Bower Van Nuys].  Another sister was Alice Bower Gossage, a newspaperwoman and fellow supporter of the suffrage movement.

In 1907, Rose Bower wrote a WCTU column in the Hot Springs Weekly Star in which she also talked about the suffrage campaign [Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), March 1, 1907, March 8, 1907, April 5, 1907, May 3, 1907, May 17, 1907].  She served as state superintendent of the WCTU franchise department and president of the Black Hills district of the WCTU in 1908, positions that occasioned several speaking opportunities [Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), June 12, 1908].

In March 1907, Bower chaired a committee meeting of the state suffrage central committee at Highmore [Forest City Press (SD), March 21, 1907].  In September 1907, she was re-elected secretary of the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association under Alice Pickler [Forest City Press (SD), September 5, 1907; Aberdeen Democrat (SD), September 20, 1907]. While Laura Gregg of Kansas was in Pierre to speak at the 1907 state convention, Bower and Gregg participated in opening exercises at the local high school–Gregg giving a speech and Bower giving whistling solos [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), September 26, 1907].

In January 1909, she attended the legislature with Edith Medbery Fitch and Nina Pettigrew [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 14, 1909; The Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City, SD), January 29, 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.

During the following campaign, she was very active in organizing around the state, including service on the publicity committee [Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), September 30, 1910; Votes for Women Campaign Publicity Campaign letterhead, Breeden correspondence, Box 1, Correspondence 1910, May. RC75-0035, RD06634, Richardson Collection-USD].  She wrote press letters to newspapers, spoke on suffrage all across the state from Milbank to Hot Springs, and played her cornet [The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), January 21, 1910, February 4, 1910; Kingsbury County Independent (DeSmet SD), March 4, 1910Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), August 12, 1910, September 16, 1910; Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), August 18, 1910; Philip Weekly Review (SD), August 25, 1910].  After her lecture at the Congregational church in Milbank, the report was that she had asserted that suffrage was the most important of all submitted ballot questions and that other states and countries with equal suffrage were seeing good results, concluding that “her presentation of the question discussed was given in a wholesome and unobjectionable manner” [Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), February 4, 1910]. In Hot Springs, she spoke in front of the Evans Hotel at a prominent point downtown [Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), August 18, 1910].

“she stops one day in a town, stirs them up, wins votes, whistles for money and passes on.  Her reports are cheerful and cheering”
Page 3, Bulletin – votes for women, c1910, RA08427, Pyle Papers USD.

“[Bower] says that where she has been lately she finds the men more interested than the women.  This year we prefer the balance that way, if it must be unequal”
Page 3, Bulletin – votes for women, c1910, RA08434, Pyle Papers, USD.

Bower, “an experienced worker, is devoting her entire time to the cause and is accomplishing good results”
42nd Annual Report of the NAWSA Convention (New York: NAWSA, 1910), 145.

In the 1910 census, listed at 508 Quincy St with her parents and sister Laura (the librarian), she was listed with the occupation of a “woman suffrage lecturer”:

Bower_1910 census
1910 U.S. census, Rapid City, SD.

In 1911, she attended the national convention and presented the state report for South Dakota [43rd Annual Report of the NAWSA Convention (New York: NAWSA, 1911), 180].

Back in South Dakota, she was active again in the field during the 1914 campaign [Lemmon Herald (SD), July 24, 1914; Black Hills Weekly Journal (Rapid City, SD), September 4, 1914; Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), October 15, 1914].  During the campaign, she did “notable work for the district,” campaigning through Gregory and Tripp Counties in south-central South Dakota, and through Perkins and Harding Counties in the northwest of the state.  She played her cornet to attract audiences to open-air meetings at Piedmont, Black Hawk, and Rapid City.  At one location in Harding County, Bower’s party spoke on the Fourth of July “on the top of Lodge Pole Butte at a picnic many miles from a shade tree, we spoke in a sunbonnet with a flock of two thousand sheep grazing around us” [Woman’s West of the River Suffrage Number, Rapid City Daily Journal (SD), October 26, 1914].  In press about an upcoming speech of hers at the Quammen Hall in Lemmon, she was billed as “an expert cornetist, a marvelous whistler and a very pleasing and entertaining speaker” [Lemmon Herald (SD), July 17, 1914, July 24, 1914].

bower1914
Woman’s West of the River Suffrage Number, Rapid City Daily Journal (SD), October 26, 1914.

Her suffrage campaign work also extended beyond South Dakota.  In 1912, she used her “musical talent” for the campaign in Chicago and was one of the ‘outsiders’ to make speeches in Ohio [Topeka State Journal (KS), May 22, 1912; The San Francisco Call (CA), August 11, 1912].  In 1915, Carrie Chapman Catt recruited Bower to accompany her and use “her cornet and her whistling ability to catch the crowds” for the suffrage campaign in New York [Mitchell Capital (SD), July 22, 1915].  She was one of the musicians for a special event at the Votes for Women Restaurant on 70 Wall Street in Manhattan in September 1915 [The Evening Post (New York NY), September 14, 1915].

I was curious about the restaurant, and this article on the connections between food and suffrage movement was the first search result online: Tove Danovich’s “How Restaurants Helped American Women Get the Vote,” on Eater (March 29, 2018).

Another result was this June 2013 blog post from Restaurant-ing Through History on “Women’s restaurants” both from the suffrage movement and the 1970s women’s rights movement.

Later in 1915, she worked for the New Jersey campaign with Anna Howard Shaw, Antoinette Funk, and others.  It reported that Bower “the official bugler of the party, has been in many suffrage campaigns in the past six or seven years”  and “a cornetist and an eloquent speaker” [Perth Amboy Evening News (NJ), October 5, 1915; Pensacola Journal (FL), October 17, 1915].

Bower_1915NJ
Bower at the center with her cornet.  Perth Amboy Evening News (NJ), October 5, 1915.

In the 1916 campaign, she assisted Effie McCollum Jones, Elsie Benedict, and others of the “flying squadron” on at least some of their Black Hills stops, during their rapid-fire campaign tours around the state [Effie McCollum Jones, “The South Dakota Campaign,” The Woman Voter 7(10) (October 1919), 15].

In January 1917, she lobbied the state legislature with Mamie Pyle, Etta Boyce, Ruth Hipple, and Lydia Johnson [Lemmon Herald (SD), January 17, 1917; Saturday News (Watertown SD), January 18, 1917]. 

In 1918, she followed the campaign and donated funds for press work, expressing appreciation for coverage of the campaign in Pennington and Custer County [Bower to Pyle, November 1, 1918, RA11616, Box 4, Correspondence, 1918, November 1-7, Pyle Papers USD].

“Our amendment is going to pass.
Excuse this hasty note.
Yours for the new democracy.
Rose Bower.
On freight train between Rapid City and Fairburn, S. Dak.”
The Woman Citizen (November 16, 1918), 515.

In 1919, at the occasion of the first convention of women voters in South Dakota, Bower wrote that it “marked a new era in the history of our state.” “Only one who has been in a position to know more or less of the ups and downs of the suffrage movement of the state, the differences of opinion regarding the policies of the campaigns, only such a one can fully appreciate the spirit of this meeting… It is a great day, and who can more appreciate it than those who, in their struggle for political justice, have come in touch with great programs for the betterment of humanity.  We may be orthodox or we may be not.  The spirit that can set the captive free and bind up his wounds is the spirit which is emanating from our people today.  And it certainly is opportune that on the eve of the great reconstruction period those young women of the convention and those dear older ones who were with us, women grown gray in the service, can join hands with our lawmakers, judges and fellow citizens and go in to bind up the wounds of a suffering world. – Black Hills, Rose Bower.” [The Woman Citizen 3 (February 15, 1919), 779].


She had also been active in other organizations, including the Fortnightly Club, the Business and Professional Women, the Bower Community Club in Custer County, and the Pennington County Council of Churches [Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965].

In October 1917, after her father’s death, she took over the care of her mother and developed an interest in cattle-raising, taking over the family ranch [Van Nuys, The Family Band, 252]. 

“The only farm or ranch work women don’t do in Custer County is pitching hay and loading and feeding it out in the winter, and even this we have done in a pinch….
We have a kodak view which was snapped by a mischievous sister while the writer was milking a broncho cow whose calf was getting too much milk for its good.  We have dabbled a little in dairying because of the irresistible example of the new settlers, but the old-time ranchers cannot yet feel pride in this milking business and feeding calves skim milk, though the closing up of the ranges, due to the homestead entries, is cutting down the size of herds and forcing to a growing extent, small diversified farming, notwithstanding the special adaptability of this section to grazing….
I do remember that while we were feeling so buoyantly free and wonderfully useful riding a mower, a rake, a sweep, we did like to have a man around to tinker with the harnesses and feel sorry because there was no pie for dinner.  Of course, there couldn’t be, with the women folks in the hay field.
The overalls—well we’ve had to do out door work for so long—and so many masculine things—that we just can’t come to the overalls.  Oh, my brother’s wife has the garden suits—she whose tastes are strictly feminine—but those of us who jump into a saddle on quick notice without getting into a habit, are still splitting and mending our skirts.  Each spring we go to the store and look at the overalls and these wonderful new things for the outdoor woman—and then go and buy the dresses like we used to.  We like to listen to and join in the cattle talk, the chat about the alfalfa seed crop, the branding, the price of beef, if you please, and all this interesting stuff, but we can’t come to the overalls.  Maybe we will next year. 
But this is to say any girl who can drive a team—and if she can’t she can learn—can mow, rake, sweep, and drive a team on the stacker as well and as easy as a man.  One fall and winter we helped load and haul and saw the wood and fix fences.  And there is always the riding—looking out for the cattle, I think the jolliest kind of work for women. 
But we still do like to have a man around to do the branding—and to tinker with the harnesses.”
The Woman Citizen 2 (April 27, 1918), 435.

In 1927, after her mother’s death, she returned to live in Rapid City [Van Nuys, The Family Band, 252].  Bower took an interest in local bands, playing with the civic orchestra, singing with the civic choral club and protesting the inability of women to join the municipal band [Van Nuys, The Family Band, 252Rapid City Municipal Band, Rose Bower — includes photographs of her and her cornet].  Bower passed away in 1965 and was buried in Rapid City [Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965; “Rose Bower,” Find-a-Grave.com].  In the notice of her death, she was described as “musician, woman suffragette, author and businesswoman” and memorial donations were sent to be sent to the W.C.T.U. [Rapid City Journal (SD), July 26, 1965].