Timeline of South Dakota Suffrage, 1911-1912

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-1912 — 1913-19141915-19161917-1918After 1918

Key Players

Minnie Sheldon
Philena Everett Johnson
Anna R. Simmons
Mamie Shields Pyle
May Billinghurst
Florence Jeffries
Ruth B. Hipple
Jennie Walton
Lorena King Fairbank
Edith M. Fitch


January: Women, including Minnie Sheldon, Philena Johnson, and Anna Simmons, went again to the state legislature to advocate for suffrage as well as other issues like food safety [Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 4, 1911; Mitchell Capital (SD), January 12, 1911].

January 16: Philena Everett Johnson passed away in Highmore, from pneumonia contracted during her time lobbying in Pierre [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 19, 1911; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (SD), January 27, 1911; Huron Daily Huronite (SD), January 16, 1911].

“a woman of marked ability in executive affairs, and one of the most aggressive and enthusiastic advocates of equal suffrage, in the northwest…. by her courage, womanly nature and modest manner, Mrs. Johnson won friends and followers everywhere, and her sacrificing service and devotion to the cause of temperance and equal suffrage, will forever be remembered by thousands of South Dakotans.  As president of the State Equal Suffrage organization, in its state campaign, Mrs. Johnson did heroic work, and it was in furtherance of this cause that she was in Pierre a week ago, watching the movements of the legislature, that the illness which resulted in death on Monday morning was contracted…. the whole state loses one of its grandest and best women. ”
Dakota Farmers’ Leader (SD), January 27, 1911.

As an indication of shifts within the movement, there was internal dissension about whether it would be good to support even limited suffrage for women (more by the ‘old-guard’), or if all effort should be put towards full, unqualified suffrage [Mitchell Capital (SD), January 19, 1911]. A suffrage bill for women who owned property was introduced by Rep. E.A. Sherman of Sioux Falls, but despite support by women in its committee hearings, it was defeated in the House by a vote of 26 to 69 [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory, vol. 3 (1915), 793; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), February 3, 1911; Bad River News (Philip SD), January 19, 1911; Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), February 10, 1911]. Another bill was offered by Sen. Perley of Moody County that would allow women to vote at separate booths during the primaries on whether they wanted a suffrage amendment–one of the common points of contention was whether women wanted to vote or not [Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), January 27, 1911, page 1, page 6]. In February, Sen. Dennis Henault of Custer introduced a full suffrage amendment that passed in the Senate 23 to 19 but was defeated in the House 42 to 56 [Mitchell Capital (SD), February 23, 1911; Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), March 2, 1911; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), March 2, 1911; Lydia Johnson to Mrs. Dennett, February 20, 1911, RA07453, Box 1, Correspondence, 1910, April – 1916, December, Pyle Papers, USD]. There was indication that opposition was bolstered by the steep vote against the amendment at the 1910 election [Forest City Press (SD), March 9, 1911].

“The women grew emotional when presenting their side of the woman suffrage question to the senate committee and pleaded with tears in their eyes for the ballot.  Even Sen. Henault wept.”
Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review (Rapid City SD), February 24, 1911.

When the senate passed the measure: “The galleries were filled when the vote was taken, and after the success of the measure, Henault was presented with an immense bouquet for successfully championing the cause in the upper house.”
Mobridge News (SD), March 3, 1911.

“The suffragettes were out in force yesterday.  They camped in the lobbies of the house with boxes of flowers and winning smiles and did not waste any time getting after the house members.  Each of the ‘faithful’ received a red carnation as he would consent to have his name go down on the ‘right side’ of the book…. But the unique campaign of the women is having its effect, as proven by the result in the senate.  Senator Henault, the bachelor from Custer, who managed their campaign in the senate, is still hard at work and determined to get the measure through.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), March 2, 1911.

“Pierre–A delegation of woman suffragets attended a meeting of the elections committee of the house yesterday, and contrary to the usual tactics expected from suffragets, the committee gave vent to their feelings in an unvoterlike way, much to the discomfiture of the women.”
Forest City Press (SD), March 2, 1911.

“The women were warned today to keep off the floor of the house during session, where they got in their eagerness for their cause.”
Mitchell Capital (SD), March 9, 1911.

Hayes opened the ball with a flowery eulogy for the women and their rights, declaring that he had received messages from all over the state asking for action.  Tyler followed with his belief in the doctrine, and asserted that the only reason the question did not carry last fall was the ‘vote no’ campaign on the ballot a half mile long.  Stuverud announced his opposition, and said that he had to meet the same arguments when he was here twenty years ago.  Millett was for women as superiors to many who now have the election franchise.  Whiting analyzed the vote of last year to show that it is useless to submit the question again next year and said that if the majority of the women want the ballot they would get it regardless of the personal desires of the men.  Sutley followed with another eulogy upon the sex, and Browne accused him of being influenced by the fact that he had just taken unto himself a wife.  Browne referred to the vote taken by the women at the Aberdeen meeting of the federation of womens’ clubs as a reason why the women themselves do not desire to vote.  Bigelow followed for the resolution and declared his belief that while Lawrence county gave a majority against the resolution last year, if the question should be submitted alone it would carry.  Roskie, while declaring himself against the measure on personal grounds, announced that he would support it.  Rowan wanted the women to help clean the political house.  Vercoe said the women had shown what they would do if they had the ballot by having an active lobby even on the floor of the house, without complying with the lobby regulation law. Knight said the women had worked a Tammany trick on him, and he would have to support the bill under his wife’s instructions…
When the result was announced boquets[sic] were placed on the desks of Browne and Whiting with compliments of the women who oppose suffrage.”
Mitchell Capital (SD), March 9, 1911.

“The discussion was in good form but spirited and much excitement prevailed during the debates and when the roll was called the interest was intense.”
Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), March 30, 1911.

“Today was the Waterloo for equal suffrage when it came up in the house for a final test.  The measure passed the senate by a scratch majority, and the women felt they would win in the house.  They were doomed to defeat, when the vote showed 120 for and 56 against it.  During the session the galleries in the house were crowded with women who were keenly interested in the outcome.  When the vote was announced the women were disappointed, and were mourning the loss of their pet measure.”
Mitchell Capital (SD), March 9, 1911.

February: Some suffragists promoted the idea that women can hold many state and county offices under the constitution as it was. 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 consider that a Woman’s Party might help promote their political activity, which could give them leverage to advocate for suffrage but would not be its primary focus [Dewey County Advocate (Timber Lake SD), February 10, 1911; Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 8, 1911, February 15, 1911; Mitchell Capital (SD), February 9, 1911; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), February 16, 1911, February 23, 1911; (names) Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 24, 1911]. The party worked at the state legislature to support appropriations for agricultural education through farmers’ institutes and experiment farms [Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 24, 1911, et al.]. They called on Governor Vessey to name women to the state board of charities and corrections, which oversaw several state institutions including the penitentiary, state hospital, schools for the deaf, blind, etc., and more [Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 24, 1911]. The party also formed a publicity committee of Ruth Hipple, Janet Cole, and Florence Jeffries that planned to start a party newspaper (but I don’t know if one was ever published) [Lead Daily Call (SD), February 25, 1911].

“Eagle Butte, in Dewey county, claims the distinction of being without a single equal suffrage advocate among its women”
Philip Weekly Review (SD), August 17, 1911.


The state Socialist and Prohibitionist parties adopted suffrage platforms [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory, vol. 3 (1915), 723].

July 24-25: Sixty delegates met at the Methodist church in Huron for the state suffrage meeting where their primary speaker was Rev. G.M. Richmond of Madison who had lived in California and spoke about the experience of women voting there [Madison Daily Leader (SD), July 9, 1912, July 26, 1912; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), July 26, 1912; Mitchell Capital (SD), August 1, 1912, pg. 8]. There they re-organized as the South Dakota Universal Franchise League, and elected Mamie Shields Pyle as president, Jennie Walton as corresponding secretary, Mary Dilger as recording secretary, and Lorena King Fairbank treasurer [Madison Daily Leader (SD), July 26, 1912; Mitchell Capital (SD), August 1, 1912, pg.7; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), July 26, 1912; Huron Daily Huronite (SD), July 26, 1912]. It divided the state into four districts with their own presidents and planned its first campaign action–gathering petitions by mail to bring to the legislature, one for voters and one for women [RD04998, Constitution of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League, Pyle Papers USD; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), August 1, 1912; Mitchell Capital (SD), August 1, 1912, pg. 8; Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 2, 1912; Hot Springs Weekly Star (SD), October 11, 1912].

October: The S.D.W.C.T.U. endorsed suffrage at their state meeting, and their suffrage department under the direction of Edith M. Fitch of Hurley began work to support three measures at the legislature: full suffrage, a home partnership law that would give women custodial rights over their children, and a vice abatement law that would submit brothels to the restrictions available public nuisance laws [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 5, 1912].

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-1912 — 1913-19141915-19161917-1918After 1918