Timeline of South Dakota Suffrage, 1915-1916

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-19121913-1914 — 1915-1916 — 1917-1918After 1918

Key Players

Mamie Shields Pyle
Anna R. Simmons
May P. Ghrist
Nina Pettigrew
Katherine Powell
Rose Bower
Elsie Benedict (Colorado)
Effie McCollum Jones (Iowa)
Emma Smith DeVoe (Washington)
Mary Baird Bryan (Nebraska/Florida)
Helen Guthrie Miller (Missouri)
Ethel Jacobsen (Anti)
Minnie Bronson (Anti, New York)
Lucy Price (Anti, Ohio)


For the legislative session, prohibition advocates reportedly tried to convince suffragists to break their advocacy to let a prohibition bill have more political attention “… the situation is not for harmony between the two elements” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 11, 1915]. Mamie Pyle was in Pierre from late January to early March to work on suffrage advocacy [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), January 28, 1915, March 4, 1915]. Suffragists decided to pursue a limited suffrage bill that would not have to go to public ballot, following Illinois’ example [Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 14, 1915; Philip Weekly Review and Bad River News (Philip SD), January 28, 1915; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), January 29, 1915; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), January 28, 1915; Lemmon Herald (SD), February 3, 1915]. It was reported that anti-prohibitionists/anti-suffragists supported a full suffrage bill because they expected it more likely to fail at public ballot than a municipal suffrage bill to fail at the legislature; they feared that municipal suffrage would mean individual communities voting dry [Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 20, 1915, January 21, 1915; Mitchell Capital (SD), January 21, 1915].

Pyle led supporting testimony at the municipal bill’s committee hearing: “The chairman of the committee before which the women appeared said the subject could not have been more ably handled by the legislature itself, which was an exceedingly doubtful compliment.”
Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), February 4, 1915.

Anti-suffragists were also on hand for committee hearings:
“The arguments were rather heated in several particulars and the rules of debate were not at all times complied with.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 4, 1915.

“a committee of anti-suffragists appeared before the joint elections committee to oppose the measure.  The committees very courteously allowed the ladies from the two points of view to divide time and the debate was intensely interesting.”
Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 12, 1915.

“A lot of ‘mere men’ in Pierre waited long for their evening meals yesterday, while their wives waited in the galleries of the house the outcome of the bill which seeks to give them the right of municipal suffrage in this state on the lines of the Illinois statute.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 12, 1915.

In February, after passing in the House, the Senate voted down the municipal suffrage bill [Philip Weekly Review and Bad River News (Philip SD), February 25, 1915Turner County Herald (Hurley SD) February 25, 1915; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), February 26, 1915; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), February 26, 1915; et al.]. In March, an amendment for full suffrage was passed by the House and Senate and went on the 1916 ballot [Mitchell Capital (SD), March 11, 1915].

September 15-16: The German-American organization Staatsverband von Sud Dakota held its annual convention in Eureka and again passed resolutions against women’s suffrage. [Translated via Google Translate (so don’t re-quote the following without confirmation…)] The report indicated that the Staatsverband were “still firmly convinced that the granting of women’s suffrage on the same basis and in the same proportion of the suffrage granted to male voters constitutes a particularly grave danger to a happy family life, the strongest bulwark of all commonwealth and statehood” [Deutscher Herold (Sioux Falls SD), September 16, 1915, September 30, 1915].

September 23: At their convention in Ipswich, the state W.C.T.U. under president Anna Simmons reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the 1916 suffrage amendment [Madison Daily Leader (SD), September 23, 1915].

November 18-19: The S.D.U.F.L. held their convention at the Congregational church in Huron and Mamie Pyle was re-elected president. The counties represented were: Pennington, McCook, Lawrence, Codington, Bon Homme, Aurora, Brookings, Hughes, Beadle, and Davison [Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 15, 1915, November 22, 1915; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), November 18, 1915, November 25, 1915; Mitchell Capital (SD), November 25, 1915]. A fundraising scheme was selected at the convention to encourage the donation of “A Gallon of Cream” (or its equivalent), using the “bushel of apples” idea from Iowa. Such an effort played to the agricultural (often cash-poor) economy of South Dakota and to agricultural work commonly done by women on family farms, but I haven’t found anything on the results [Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), December 2, 1915; Madison Daily Leader (SD), June 10, 1916].

December: Ethel Jacobsen of Pierre went on an organizing campaign to eastern SD counties for the state association opposed to suffrage. She reportedly found little interest in organizing local auxiliaries, but much opposition to suffrage among women. She visited newspaper offices to request assurances of fair coverage for opposing viewpoints in the press [Mitchell Capital (SD), December 9, 1915].


April-May: Mamie Pyle, May Ghrist, [Nina?] Pettigrew, and Katherine Powell worked on organizing local suffrage leagues in Lake, Lincoln, Lawrence, and Grant Counties. The SDUFL had decided to work on a county basis, who could then reach out to their townships, rather than in districts like the previous campaign–“By this method, every household in South Dakota would be contacted by someone who was committed to suffrage.” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), April 3, 1916, April 5, 1916; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), April 7, 1916; Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), April 29, 1916; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), May 19, 1916; Patricia O’Keefe Easton, “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota,” South Dakota History 13(3) (1983), 216].

June 29: The S.D.U.F.L. held their mass convention at First Methodist Church in Sioux Falls with an office for delegates and the local suffrage league in the Greeley-McCrossan Building [Madison Daily Leader (SD), June 29, 1916].

July: The Mitchell suffrage club signed a petition to support Ellen M. Gregory for the city office of sanitary policewoman.  The Mitchell mayor was authorized to appoint a woman to the office for 60 days with salary of $50 to inspect kitchens of hotels, restaurants, and private houses [Mitchell Capital (SD), July 27, 1916].

Elsie Benedict of Colorado arrived in South Dakota for Flying Squadron campaign; she was joined by Effie McCollum Jones of Iowa. The Flying Squadron planned to start in Sioux Falls on July 24, cross the state to the Black Hills and back. Emma DeVoe arrived on August 1 in Deadwood from Washington to join the campaign. Benedict, Jones, and DeVoe were also joined at points by Nina Pettigrew, May Ghrist, Katherine Powell, and Rose Bower. In September, Benedict and DeVoe also assisted with campaign work at the Corn Palace festival [Huron Weekly State Spirit (SD), September 28, 1916; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), October 5, 1916]. In November, they returned to the Black Hills and had speaking engagements at Terry, Terraville, Lead, and Deadwood [Lead Daily Call (SD), November 2, 1916].
See more details and citations at my post: “The 1916 Campaigns.”

August 17: The national “Golden Flier” tour of Alice Snitzer Burke and Nell Richardson passed through South Dakota for two weeks, traveling north to south through the eastern part of the state, including Redfield and Huron — “they are the first women to make the circuit of the United States by automobile and their tour is the biggest suffrage demonstration ever undertaken…. Mrs. Burke and Miss Richardson speak from their car—which is bright yellow on the exterior, lined with white leather, and is equipped with a fireless cooker, a baby typewriter, tools with which Miss Richardson does the repairing ‘without getting dirty,’ she says: a small hand sewing machine and the wardrobe necessary for its occupants for the trip, as well as suffrage literature and pennants.  The car is kept in repair by its manufacturer, and it is lighted with four yellow moons of electricity swung on its four corners and fed from the car’s storage batteries.” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), July 25, 1916, August 17, 1916; Patterson, ed., The Hand Book of NAWSA and Proceedings of the Forty-Eighth Annual Convention (1916), 89].
Another photo from Library of Congress: “Suffragettes – Mrs. Alice Burke and Nell Richardson in the suffrage automobile “Golden Flyer” in which they will drive from New York to San Francisco. April 7, 1916.” LOT 11052-4 [item] [P&P].

Mitchell Capital (SD), April 13, 1916.

The state auxiliary of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (Boston) was led by Ethel Jacobsen of Pierre, Mrs. Ernest Jackson of Dallas, and Mrs. C. M. Hollister of Pierre [Minneapolis Morning Tribune (MN), July 18, 1916; Mitchell Capital (SD), July 20, 1916; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), July 21, 1916; Easton, “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota,” 216.

September: There was a un-attributed press item circulating, entitled: “Indian Women want Equal Franchise Rights.” It reported that at a fair in Fort Pierre, “the hill sides were dotted with white tepees.”  At the Indian dance on the last day, “many of the Indian women wore sashes with ‘Votes for Women’ printed on them, securing them from the suffrage booth through their own volition… Some of the Indian women came to the suffrage booth and bought ‘Votes for Women’ balloons for their children.  One of them told those in charge of the booth that lately her husband had been given the right to vote and she thought women were equally entitled to the franchise—and her husband thought so also” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), September 12, 1916; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), September 14, 1916; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), September 14, 1916]. The account was repeated in a Washington D.C. paper: “South Dakota Squaws Get in Suffrage Fight. Pierre Sep 18: Indian women of this neighborhood have joined the equal rights movement.  At a fair in Fort Pierre they marched from their tepees, which dotted the hillsides, decked out in ‘Votes for Women’ badges, which a recent suffrage campaign party had impressed on them.  The Indian women are taking great interest in the fight to make the State dry in November.” [Washington Times (DC), September 18, 1916].

October: The South Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs adopted a suffrage resolution at their state meeting at the capitol building in Pierre — “By declaring unanimously for equal suffrage they discounted the claim that ‘a majority of the women do not want to vote.'” [Forest City Press (SD), October 11, 1916; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), October 12, 1916].

Mary Baird Bryan came to South Dakota, speaking in Mitchell, Redfield, Watertown, Aberdeen, and in North Dakota at Valley City. At the city hall auditorium in Mitchell, she was introduced by Myra Weller and afterwards, twelve girls entered representing the twelve suffrage states and gave roses to Bryan. The girls wore white dresses with yellow ribbons, except for one draped in black to represent South Dakota. After narration by Mrs. C.S. Osgood, the black drape was removed, and the girl carried the inscription “South Dakota—1916” [Mitchell Capital (SD), October 12, 1916; Saturday News (Watertown SD), October 12, 1916; Philip Weekly Review and Bad River News (SD), October 19, 1916; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), October 19, 1916; Des Moines Register (IA), November 27, 1916].

October 20-November 4: The Anti-Suffrage Association of South Dakota hosted proponents Minnie Bronson of New York (general secretary of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, from Iowa originally), Lucy Price of Ohio (who grew up in North Dakota), national organizer Clara Markeson (maybe), and Ethel Jacobson of Pierre, who did speaking tours in larger cities around the state, including Vermillion, Yankton, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Madison, Brookings, Watertown, Redfield, Aberdeen, Huron, Pierre, Rapid City, Hot Springs, Lead, and Deadwood. Helen Guthrie Miller, the NAWSA vice-president, came to South Dakota and spoke in Sioux Falls and Vermillion after the Antis’ visit. She gave twenty-nine talks for suffrage in South Dakota. Elsie Benedict also followed them to many events—speaking for suffrage on the streets outside their rallies and leading her “wrecking crew” of supporters into the theaters to disrupt the rallies “with a waving of suffrage banners, and much noise and shuffling of feet.” See more details and citations at my post: “The 1916 Campaigns.”

The Roberts County franchise league put on an event where local actors performed two short plays at the opera house: “Back of the Ballot,” a comedy written in 1915 by New York playwright George Middleton, and “How the Vote was Won,” the British play distributed for the first time in the U.S. in 1910 [Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), October 13, 1916; October 20, 1916, November 3, 1916].

“We stand, as we have always stood, for universal adult suffrage”
South Dakota Socialist Party platform, 1916
In Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), November 3, 1916.

Men’s Leagues for women’s suffrage formed in Yankton, Sioux Falls, and Codington County (Watertown) to support the amendment [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 23, 1916; Saturday News (Watertown SD), October 26, 1916, pg 1, pg 3; Mitchell Capital (SD), November 2, 1916].

“The Extension office has lost its independence. The lady in the office has come out in favor of woman suffrage, has put up a big yellow pennant reading ‘Votes for Women,’ and dares anyone to take it down. It is still there.”
The Industrial-Normal Exponent [Northern Normal & Industrial School, Aberdeen] 15(2) (October 28, 1916), 24.

“Coeds” at the University of South Dakota had formed a suffrage club with president Mary Weisel. They polled male students just before the election finding 50 in favor, 77 opposed, and 21 undecided [Cedric Cummins, The University of South Dakota, 1862-1966 (Vermillion: Dakota Press, 1975), 120].

“Especially have the prohibitionists and women’s suffrage workers put up a strong fight in this section of the state.  Many speakers have been brought from outside the state by the prohibitionists, suffrage and Local Option league supporters… During the last week there has been a campaign speech made every night, including Sunday.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 6, 1916.

“Lady adherents of the suffrage and temperance amendments, while keeping a trifle more than the prescribed distance from the polls, were on the ground early.  Not only did they put in a word where they believed it would have a beneficent effect, but they made a generous distribution of literature… ‘Vote “Yes” on the sixth amendment—give mother a right to vote for home and children.’  The present is the most spirited campaign South Dakota women have waged.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 7, 1916.

The amendment was initially reported to have carried but had failed by a close vote. It’s failure was ascribed to “the German vote” voting in opposition in Campbell, McPherson, Hutchinson, and Bon Homme Counties “and the Indian votes in Charles Mix county” [Lemmon Herald (SD), November 8, 1916; Forest City Press (SD), November 8, 1916, November 29, 1916, (quote) December 6, 1916; Catt and Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923), 304; Easton, “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota,” 218; “Introduction,” Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 13]. Meanwhile, the newspaper of the Lutheran Normal School in Sioux Falls (now Augustana University) chalked up suffrage’s failure to a rural/urban divide, claiming it was “due largely to the strong opposition in the rural districts” [Lutheran Normal School, Mirror (December 1916), 38].

A state amendment for prohibition passed in 1916 [Forest City Press (SD), December 6, 1916]. Suffrage opponents claimed that the liquor industry had been occupied fighting this amendment and had not contributed to the anti-suffrage campaigning, but suffragists believed they had been funding and supporting opposition, and that with prohibition passed, that opposition would be removed for the next campaign [The Remonstrance Against Woman Suffrage (January 1917), 2; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), January 12, 1917].

National leaders “are said to have advised against a campaign this year,” but South Dakota suffragists said they could handle it without outside help. At the national convention in Atlantic City, NAWSA adopted a resolution against any state mounting a campaign “without the sanction of the national organization.”
South Bend News-Times (IN), November 14, 1916.

“This year the Ciceronians have been taking hold of their programs in the right spirit. Some very interesting and entertaining programs have been given. On November 18 there was shown more of this spirit than usual. The program was on the Suffrage question, and was rendered as followed: Recitation on Suffrage, by Helen Solheim; piano solo — “The Shepherd and the Shepherdess,” by Goddard, Selma Johnson; a debate: “Resolved, that women should be given the ballot.” The speakers for the affirmative were Lawrence Rudd, Alma Olson, Emil Borgen, Agnes Lommen, and Olive Rue ; for the negative were Gerhard Hegg, Josie Hoven, Hulda Johnson, Freddie Orvedahl, and Sylfest Orwoll. Their three-minute speeches were to the point and showed careful study of the subject. While waiting for the decision of the judges, jokes on Suffrage were read by Wilhelm Solheim, and two Suffrage songs were sung with vim by a girls’ chorus. Mr. Elvehjem gave a few criticisms on the debate. The decision of the judges was two to one in favor of the negative.”
Lutheran Normal School (Sioux Falls), Mirror (December 1916), 46-47.

December: A state convention was held in Huron to plan for the 1917 legislature [Huron Daily Huronite (SD), December 9, 1916; Pierre Weekly Free Press (SD), December 14, 1916; Forest City Press (SD), December 20, 1916; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), December 21, 1916].

Mamie Pyle: “Even though the amendment has been submitted by the last two legislatures to the people for their vote, and each time has gained thousands of votes, the women feel it is a question of justice and right, the paramount issue in the United States, and until this right is extended to all women in the country it will continue to be an issue.”
Forest City Press (SD), December 20, 1916.

Carrie H. Whitcher: “Personally I am glad that your decision is for us to keep on ‘organizing, educating and agitating.’  If we were to stop now I feel that much of our work in the past would be lost, as interest in, and sentiment for Suffrage would decrease if we do not keep everlastingly at it.”
Whitcher to Pyle, December 29, 1916, RA07480, Box 1, Correspondence, 1910, April – 1916, December, Pyle Papers, USD.

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-19121913-1914 — 1915-1916 — 1917-1918After 1918