Timeline of South Dakota Suffrage

These timelines are a work in progress that I’ll be filling in as I continue my research. They are not a comprehensive list of all suffrage activity in South Dakota but items I thought were illustrative of the story as a whole.

Click below for detailed Timeline segments:
Before 1889
After 1918

Suffrage passed in November 1918 with 64% of the vote.  South Dakota was the 17th state to approve full suffrage for women.

Data on elections, for/against suffrage amendments:
[From Ida M. Anding, legislative reference librarian, to Mary Sumner Boyd, NAWSA NY, December 7, 1915, RA07454, Box 1, Correspondence, 1910, April – 1916, December, Pyle Papers, USD; and South Dakota Women’s Suffrage (1916), (1918), Ballotpedia]:
1890 — 22,792 / 45,682
1894 — 17,010 / 22,682
1898 — 19,698 / 22,983
1910 — 35,290 / 57,709
1914 — 39,605 / 51,519
1916 — 53,432 / 58,350
1918 — 49,318 / 28,934

Legislative voting on suffrage-related bills 1890-1915:
From Ida M. Anding, legislative reference librarian, to Mary Sumner Boyd, NAWSA NY, January 17, 1916, RA07455, RA07456, RA07457, and March 15, 1916, RA07459, RA07460, Box 1, Correspondence, 1910, April – 1916, December, Pyle Papers, USD.

Big Dates & Leadership:
More details and sources on the Timeline pages.

December 21, 1868: Enos Stutsman introduces a suffrage bill in the legislative council.

February 1879: Cpt. Nelson Miner proposes Council Bill No. 51 for woman suffrage to the legislative council.

March 1879: The territorial legislature passed a law giving women the right to vote at school district meetings.

1881-1890: Marietta M. Bones of Webster, National Woman Suffrage Association’s (NWSA) vice-president for Dakota Territory

1883: The legislature changes voting on many school questions and offices from district meetings (where women could vote) to ballot at polls (where they couldn’t).

1884: For NWSA, in addition to Bones, also Eliza Tupper Wilkes of Sioux Falls, honorary vice-president for Dakota and Julia Louise Gage Carpenter, executive committee member for Dakota.

January 26, 1885: John Pickler introduced suffrage bill in territorial House. The bill passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Pierce on March 13th.

1885-1888: Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU):
Alice Pickler, superintendent of Franchise Department
Helen B. Barker, president

1887: Rep. J.M. Moore of Sully County introduced a bill for full woman suffrage in the territorial House. The legislature grants women the right to vote at the polls for special school elections (not general elections) and hold offices of county superintendent of schools or member of a school board.

1889: Cpt. Van Etten, a member of the seven-member committee established by the territorial House, introduced a bill for suffrage, and Rep. Cooke introduced a bill for municipal suffrage. Suffragists, including Helen BarkerPhilena Johnson, and Alice Pickler, attended the legislative session in Bismarck.

October 1889: The statehood convention in Sioux Falls put forward a state constitution that continued the eligibility of women to vote at school elections, and it directed the first state legislature to put full suffrage for women on the state’s first public ballot.

October 21, 1889: Following the incorporation of suffrage speakers into the celebration of Woman’s Day at the fair in Beadle County, those speakers planned and held the first suffrage convention for South Dakota at city hall in Huron—at which, the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association (S.D.E.S.A.) was organized.

Constitution & By-Laws of new South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association: Wessington Springs Herald (SD), November 15, 1889.

November 1889: The first state legislature passed a bill to put equal suffrage on the November 1890 ballot, as directed by the constitutional convention.

February 1890: Alice Pickler, John Pickler, and Alonzo Wardall attended the National (American) Woman’s Suffrage Association convention in Washington D.C. to ask for personnel and funds to run their suffrage campaign in South Dakota.

Please see the Timeline for 1889-1890 and Invaluable Out-of-Staters for more on the campaign activity and speakers.

Elizabeth “Libbie” M. Wardall served as editor of the suffrage department of the SD Farmers’ Alliance newspaper, the Dakota Ruralist, and served as superintendent of the campaign’s press department.

June 1890: Sophia M. Harden (secretary of the SD Farmers’ Alliance), Mrs. Bonham, and Judge A.W. Bangs attended and spoke for suffrage at the state Democratic Party convention held at the opera house in Aberdeen. The Democrats did not endorse the suffrage amendment.

More on the SDESA appeals to the 1890 party conventions.

July 7-8, 1890: The Huron convention of the S.D.E.S.A. was called by “forty or more women” including Harden, DeVoe, Wardall, Bonham, PicklerJohnson, Elson, Mouser, and Hall. After long meetings with the current state officers, the leadership was largely replaced:

July 1890: The Independent Party, formed in Huron primarily from the Farmers’ Alliance and Knights of Labor who had individually supported equal suffrage, did not adopt a formal platform on suffrage.

August 25-26, 1890: A second convention of the S.D.E.S.A. was held at the rink opera house in Mitchell to finalize campaign plans and organize a committee to approach the Republican Party convention for a suffrage plank.

August 27, 1890: Several state and national suffrage movement leaders were given time during a recess to address delegates to the Republican Party convention held at the same rink opera house. The Republican Party did not adopt a suffrage platform.

September 1890: Emma Smith DeVoe coordinated a slate of suffrage speakers, including Emma Cranmer, Susan Anthony, Anna Shaw, Olympia Brown, and Clara Colby, to make addresses at the grandstand for Woman’s Day of the state fair in Huron.

November 1890: The suffrage amendment was defeated at the polls.

November 7-8, 1890: The S.D.E.S.A. met in Huron to reorganize and plan legislative work for early 1891:

February 1891: Senator Crawford introduced S.B. 248 for women’s suffrage in municipal elections.

February 1891: Anna Howard Shaw, Henry Blackwell, Carrie Chapman, Emma Smith DeVoe, and Alice and John Pickler report about the 1890 campaign to the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington D.C.

December 1891: The S.D.E.S.A. held a state convention in Huron. The convention passed a resolution to ask political parties to name a woman for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

September 1892: At the Prohibitionist party convention in Sioux Falls, resolutions were passed for equal suffrage and equal pay.

December 6, 1892: The S.D.E.S.A. held a state convention in Huron. The convention passed resolutions including: asking for a change so that all school-related elections would be held in June to lessen partisan influence on educational issues and “give the women a chance to vote”; opposing the resubmission of prohibition; and supporting petitions to the legislature to raise the age of consent for girls from 15 to 18.

1892: Irene Adams compiled a leaflet of twenty-five state laws unjust to women.

February-March 1893: Emma Cranmer and Anna Simmons led lobbying efforts for suffrage at the state legislature. A bill to expand school suffrage for women was passed to be put on the 1894 public ballot.

September 1893: The S.D.E.S.A. held its annual meeting at the Methodist Episcopal church in Aberdeen during the Grain Palace Exposition.

  • Alice Pickler, delegate to the national convention
  • Mary A. Groesbeck, state president

February 1894: Alice Pickler, as part of a delegation of suffragists, spoke before the judiciary committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

June 1894: At the state Populist party convention in Mitchell, a suffrage plank was adopted “almost unanimously” after a speech by Anna Simmons.

September 1894: The S.D.E.S.A. and state W.C.T.U. held a joint convention in Aberdeen. The convention passed a resolution commending the Populist part for their support.

  • Anna R. Simmons, president
  • Mary Groesbeck, vice-president
  • Kate Folger, secretary
  • Mrs. E.J. Beach, treasurer

November 1894: The state amendment to allow women to vote for county and state school superintendents failed at the public ballot by 5,672 votes.

February-March 1895: Emma Cranmer and Anna Simmons led lobbying efforts for suffrage at the state legislature, though countering challenges to the state prohibition law was their priority.

September 16-17, 1895: The state W.C.T.U. and the S.D.E.S.A. held their annual conventions back-to-back in Pierre.

December 3-4, 1896: The S.D.E.S.A. held its annual convention in Salem  focused on preparing for the 1897 legislature.

February-March 1897: Emma Cranmer and Anna Simmons led lobbying efforts for suffrage at the state legislature. With favorable committee reports, a suffrage amendment passed both chambers and was signed by the governor to go on the ballot in November 1898.

1897-1898: Della Robinson King of Scotland, S.D. ran “almost entirely at her own expense the South Dakota Messenger, a campaign paper which was of the greatest service.” Jane Breeden worked with King as chairs of the SDESA’s literature department.

September-November, 1897: National speakers Laura A. Gregg (IA), Rev. Henrietta G. Moore (OH), Mary Garrett Hay (NY), Laura M. Johns (KS), and Carrie Chapman Catt (IA/NY) led county conventions around the state to organize early campaign efforts.

September 28-30, 1897: The South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association convention was held at the county courthouse in Mitchell.

  • Anna Simmons, president
  • Alice Pickler, vice-president
  • Hannah V. Best, corresponding secretary
  • Clare B. Williams, recording secretary

April 1898: The S.D.E.S.A. held a state meeting in Sioux Falls at the opera house.

October 1898: Mrs. W. Winslow Crannell (Albany NY) did a two-week South Dakota speaking tour in opposition to equal suffrage.

November 1898: The suffrage amendment was defeated by over 3,000 votes.

September 6, 1899: The S.D.E.S.A. held a joint convention with the state W.C.T.U. at the Presbyterian Church in Madison, where they planned petition work to bring to the next legislature.

January 15, 1900: Senator R.F. Pettigrew of Sioux Falls brought a petition from South Dakota for a 16th amendment for women’s suffrage to the U.S. Senate.

September 5, 1900: The S.D.E.S.A. held its annual meeting in Brookings.

February 1, 1901: A resolution for a suffrage amendment to the state constitution was introduced by Rep. Williamson of Lake County.

1902: Suffrage advocates tried to gather a petition for putting a suffrage bill forward for a vote in 1904 under the new Initiative clause, but the effort failed because the Secretary of State O.C. Berg, on states’ attorney’s advice, determined that Initiative could not be used for constitutional amendments.

September 1902: The state W.C.T.U. convention in Mitchell planned a petition drive to advocate for suffrage at the next state legislature.

January 1904: A resolution for a suffrage amendment was introduced in the state legislature but it was defeated in the House.

October 1906: The SD WCTU held its convention at Parker and they decide to “press” suffrage and local option prohibition at the following legislature.

January-February 1907: Alice Pickler, Luella Ramsey, and Lydia B. Johnson led the lobbying effort at the legislature, but their priority was temperance.  Suffrage passed the Senate quietly but was then defeated in House.

March 1907: The S.D.E.S.A. business committee met in Highmore to organize a state central committee under chair, Rose Bower.

September 17-18, 1907: The S.D.E.S.A. held their state meeting in Pierre in the chambers of the House of Representatives.

January-February 1909: Edith Fitch, Nina Pettigrew, and Rose Bower were in Pierre in support of a suffrage amendment at the state legislature, as were temperance advocates Luella Ramsey, Philena Johnson, and Emma Cranmer. After a legislative merry-go-round, a bill for full suffrage passed and was put on the 1910 ballot.

June 18, 1909: The S.D.E.S.A. held a state convention in Aberdeen.

  • Lydia B. Johnson, president
  • Harriet Curtiss, first vice-president
  • Mrs. H.E. Johnson, second vice-president
  • Minnie Oleson, third vice-president
  • Emma Stiles, corresponding secretary
  • Rose C. Record, treasurer,
  • Gertrude Walker, auditor
  • Martha A. Scott, member of national executive committee

September 30, 1909: At their convention in Dell Rapids, the SD Federation of Women’s Clubs passed an endorsement of suffrage.

November 3-5, 1909: The state suffrage convention was held in Sioux Falls. Main speakers from out-of-state to inspire campaign work were Anna Howard Shaw (NAWSA president), Rachel Foster Avery (NAWSA vice-president), Lulu L. Shepard (UT), and Perle Penfield (TX). 

November 1909: In New York City, the National American Woman Suffrage Association held a mass meeting at Carnegie Hall, with addresses by Anna Howard Shaw, B.O. Aylesworth, and others, in order raise funds for the suffrage campaign in South Dakota. Robert S. Vessey, the state governor, was also invited to speak.

Read more about campaign activity in the Timeline for 1909-1910.

April 19, 1910: Senator Coe I. Crawford and Representative Charles H. Burke presented 7,000 South Dakota signatures on petitions for women’s suffrage to the U.S. Senate and House (respectively).

June 1910: After a leadership crisis, Minnie Sheldon took over the position of campaign secretary at the headquarters in Sioux Falls. Perle Penfield spent the last two months of the campaign working with Mamie Pyle and Beadle County suffragists, rather than working with the Sioux Falls-centered leaders. After Gilbert fell ill, Edith Medbury Fitch replaced her as press/publicity chair.

October 21, 1910: Shortly before the November election, delegates at the South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs’ state meeting, held in at the normal school auditorium in Aberdeen, rejected a resolution endorsing equal suffrage with a vote of 16 to 20. Suffragists made concerted efforts in the press to counter negative publicity over the rejection.

November 1910: The suffrage amendment was defeated at the election by more than 20,000 votes.

December 1-2, 1910: The S.D.E.S.A. held a convention in Huron. When the convention was called the officers were:

  • Lydia B. Johnson, president
  • Elinor Whiting, first vice-president
  • Margaret E. Hendricks, second vice-president
  • Minnie Oleson, third vice-president
  • Mame L. Ogin, recording secretary
  • Jennie Walton, corresponding secretary
  • Lorena King Fairbanks, treasurer,
  • Gertrude Walker, auditor
  • Maud Briggs, second auditor
  • Martha A. Scott, member of national executive committee
  • Nettie M. Jackson and Alice Pickler, members of the executive committee

At the conclusion of the convention there was a committee elected to attempt the organization of something more like a political party:

January 16, 1911Philena Everett Johnson passed away in Highmore from pneumonia contracted during her time lobbying in Pierre.

January-March 1911: A variety of suffrage bills were proposed at the state legislature but none passed.

February 1911: A group including May Billinghurst, Janet Cole, Florence Jeffries, Cassie Hoyt, Ione Russell, and Lizzie D. Laughlin held a meeting at the state capitol to further ideas about a Woman’s Party that might help promote their political involvement, giving them leverage to advocate for suffrage but not making it their primary focus. The party worked on a few advocacy issues but does not appear to have been active long.

July 24-25, 1912: Sixty delegates met at the Methodist church in Huron for the state suffrage meeting where they re-organized as the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (S.D.U.F.L.). It divided the state into four districts with their own presidents/superintendents.

October 1912: The state W.C.T.U. continued its endorsement of suffrage at their state meeting, and their suffrage department under the direction of Edith M. Fitch of Hurley began work to prepare for advocacy at the legislature.

January 1913: Sen. B.B. Bowell of Lake County introduced a suffrage bill that passed to go on the 1914 ballot. Anna Simmons and Alice Pickler lobbied for suffrage at the legislature on behalf of the SD WCTU.

July 1-2, 1913: The S.D.U.F.L. held their state meeting in Huron.

Letterhead, Pickler to Agnes E. Ryan, Boston, September 25, 1913, General Correspondence, 1839-1961, mss34132, box 28; reel 19, National American Woman Suffrage Association Records, Library of Congress

The S.D.U.F.L. split the state into quadrants for organizing county leagues. May Billinghurst worked in the northeast, Katherine Powell in the southwest, and Nina Pettigrew in the northwest.

September 1913: The S.D.U.F.L. put out its first issue of the South Dakota Messenger for the campaign. The last issue of the Messenger was put out by editor Ruth Hipple the first week of November 1914.

October 1913: The state German-American Alliance adopted resolutions against prohibition and suffrage at their annual convention in Aberdeen.

Read more about campaign activity in the Timeline for 1913-1914.

September 1914: Minnie Bronson of D.C. met with women in Pierre at Ethel Jacobsen’s house in late September and a state auxiliary of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was organized with Jacobsen as secretary and Mrs. C.M. Hollister as president.

September 1914: The state W.C.T.U. convention was held at the city hall auditorium in Mitchell. There were addresses by Alice Pickler and Anna Simmons, and Ruby Jackson of Ipswich organized a “Votes for Women” parade during the convention.

January-March 1915:  Mamie Pyle led work on suffrage advocacy at the state legislature. After a proposed bill for municipal suffrage failed in the Senate, a bill for full suffrage was passed by the House and Senate in March and went on the 1916 ballot.

September 15-16, 1915: The German-American organization Staatsverband von Sud Dakota held its annual convention in Eureka and again passed resolutions against women’s suffrage.

September 23, 1915: At their convention in Ipswich, the state W.C.T.U. under president Anna Simmons reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the 1916 suffrage amendment.

November 18-19, 1915: The S.D.U.F.L. held their convention at the Congregational church in Huron.

June 29, 1916: The S.D.U.F.L. held their mass convention at First Methodist Church in Sioux Falls.

Read more about campaign activity in the Timeline for 1915-1916.

October 1916: The state Federation of Women’s Clubs adopted a suffrage resolution at their state meeting at the capitol building in Pierre.

November 1916: The amendment was initially reported to have carried but had failed by a close vote. 

December 1916: The S.D.U.F.L.’s state convention was held in Huron to plan for the 1917 legislature.

January-February 1917: Mamie Pyle, Etta Boyce, and Mabel Rewman, with Rose BowerRuth Hipple, and Lydia Johnson, led advocacy work at the legislature in Pierre.

January 13, 1917: Interested women met with Beulah Amidon and Margaret Whittemore of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage at the Quaker Tea Room in Sioux Falls and organized a state board for the Congressional Union.

  • Harriet E. Fellows, chair
  • Ida Bickelhaupt, first vice-chair
  • Ruth W. Pendar, second vice-chair
  • Hazel G. Fellows, secretary
  • Myra Weller and Mary Peabody, directors

1918: The SDUFL set up campaign headquarters for Pyle and a secretary in Rooms 13 and 14 of the Masonic Block in Huron. Given the war conditions, several national organizers under director Maria McMahon were employed to lead the campaign.

Read more about campaign activity in Timeline for 1917-1918 and Invaluable Out-of-Staters.

March 1918: With support from the SD Council on National Defense, Governor Peter Norbeck called a special legislative session to limit “alien voting.” The legislature of Dakota Territory had given immigrants the right to vote on first citizenship papers.  Gov. Norbeck called Pyle to Pierre and enlisted the S.D.U.F.L.’s assistance in campaigning for the amended Amendment E that would remove the word “male” from voter eligibility, but also require that voters be full citizens. 

June 3-20, 1918: Six Schools of Methods were organized by field worker Mary Elizabeth Pidgeon and the S.D.U.F.L. in Watertown, Aberdeen, Huron, Pierre, Deadwood, Mitchell, and Sioux Falls. The schools included talks by McMahon, NAWSA corresponding secretary Nettie Rogers Schuler, and state vice-president May Ghrist.

June 23-24, 1918: Myra Weller spoke for suffrage at the state Non-Partisan League convention in Mitchell, and they endorsed a suffrage resolution.

October 1918: The 1918 influenza outbreak caused many city/county bans on public meetings and gatherings that disrupted the suffrage campaigns final plans leading up to the election, both for outreach and fundraising.

Suffrage passed in November 1918 with 64% of the vote.  South Dakota was the 17th state to approve full suffrage for women.

January 29-30, 1919: The last state suffrage meeting and “the first meeting of women voters” was held in Pierre.

April 1919: The S.D. Attorney General Payne ruled that jury service was not included within Amendment E and, for women to be able to serve on juries, it would require additional legislation.

August 1919: A case came before the circuit court in Yankton under Judge R.B. Tripp that brought a challenge to Amendment E on the citizenship angle. When the case finished in the state Supreme Court, Amendment E was “declared lawfully adopted.”

May-June 1919: Pyle and other state leaders organized the South Dakota League of Women Voters (S.D.L.W.V.).

October 23-25, 1919: The S.D.L.W.V. held a state meeting in Mitchell.

December 3-4, 1919: A special session of the state legislature was held to ratify the federal suffrage amendment. South Dakota was the twenty-first state to ratify the amendment.

February 12, 1920: Dorothy Rehfeld served as South Dakota representative to the victory convention of NAWSA and first LWV congress. Rehfeld was there appointed to be one of NAWSA’s representatives to the 8th Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Geneva, Switzerland in June.

February 1921: A bill for women to serve on juries was introduced in the state House but failed.

March 19-20, 1921: The S.D.L.W.V. held their state convention at the Cataract Hotel in Sioux Falls.

1925: The S.D.L.W.V. begins publication of The Discerning Voter.