Timeline of South Dakota Suffrage, After 1918

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-19101911-19121913-19141915-19161917-1918 — After 1918

Key Players

Mamie Shields Pyle
Ruth Bowman Hipple
Rose Bower
Alice Lorraine Daly
May Billinghurst
Gov. Peter Norbeck
Dorothy Rehfeld
Hattie E. Fellows
Belle Leavitt
Gertrude Feige


January: In Aberdeen, Brown county officials announced plans to make many women serving as clerks in their offices into deputies, including Margaret Kelly who will become deputy treasurer — “it seems probably that every deputy, save the deputy sheriff, will be a woman” [Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 2, 1919; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), January 2, 1919].

In January, three women were sworn in to appointed positions in the capitol building: Mae Andrews (Meade Co.) as bill clerk for the House, Marguerite Karcher Sahr (Pierre) as reading clerk for the Senate, and Grace Hanson (Ft. Pierre) as reading clerk for the House [The Woman Citizen 3 (February 15, 1919), 784].

“…nearly the whole body applauded.  The first time in history of the state for women to apply for such places; I could not help but wonder if they realized who made it possible for them to attain those places.  As I glanced around at the older suffrage women looking on I imagined I could see in their faces happiness and then sadness and a far away look that told of the long struggle.” — May Billinghurst 
Billinghurst to Pyle, January 8, 1919, RA09433, Box 5, Correspondence, 1919, Janurary 1-14, Pyle Papers USD; and quoted in Reed (1958), 112-113.

January 29-30: The last state suffrage meeting and “the first meeting of women voters” was held in Pierre [Saturday News (Watertown SD), January 16, 1919; Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 20, 1919]. At the meeting, there were presentations on political procedure, on laws including “those in relation to marriage, inheritance, mothers pensions, and child labor,” and from Justice Charles Whiting [Lead Daily Call (SD), February 4, 1919].

“All women who appreciate the rights which have been granted to them by the voters of the state should make every sacrifice to be present.”
Saturday News (Watertown SD), January 16, 1919.

Rose Bower: The January meeting “marked a new era in the history of our state” and reflected: “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.” and: “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 one 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.”
The Woman Citizen 3 (February 15, 1919), 779.

“they have called their organization together at Pierre for the last of this week to consider what they may want further in the way of legislation… just how they will use their newly acquired power will be watched with interest.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), January 29, 1919.

“‘The Franchise League will stay in existence until every woman in the United States has the ballot,’ says Mrs. John L. Pyle.”
The Woman Citizen 3 (January 25, 1919), 712.

Alice Lorraine Daly spoke from the senate rostrum to “fellow electors” and was reportedly the first woman to speak in that building from that position, and probably in the history of the state.  She had been attending the state suffrage meeting and “was invited to speak by the presiding officer of both houses” on “the ‘Ideals of Womanhood,’ contending the spirit of democracy meant that all children have the right to equal privileges, and that was what the woman wanted to see incorporated into the laws of the state.  She related her impressions of politics and legislators, and complimented the members from her professional point of view upon their oratorical ability” [The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), February 14, 1919].

April: 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 would require additional legislation [Madison Daily Leader (SD), April 10, 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. Karl Schmidt of Kaylor (a Germans from Russia immigrant) had run for Hutchinson County sheriff in 1918 and was elected, but had not completed his citizenship and a suit was brought by Wicks & Quinn of Scotland with the state’s attorney of Hutchinson County to remove him from office — “an outgrowth of the pro-German difficulties which brought that county into the limelight during the war and which has been bitterly resented by the loyal American residents of the county” [referring to Espionage Act cases from Hutchinson Co. that went to the Supreme Court].  Schmidt’s attorney Joe Kirby argued that publication requirements were not met to pass Amendment E, and that Schmidt met the legal conditions at time of his election.  “Danger to the new franchise for women is seen in this situation by some lawyers.” When the court ruled against Schmidt and was upheld by state Supreme Court, Amendment E was “declared lawfully adopted” [Lead Daily Call (SD), April 21, 1919; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), May 2, 1919, August 22, 1919; Madison Daily Leader (SD), August 18, 1919; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), August 21, 1919].

The South Dakota League of Women Voters organized in May/June 1919. Minnehaha and Davison Counties formed the first two chapters in the state [The Woman Citizen 4 (August 23, 1919), 290291].

The U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment bill in June. Thirty-six states needed to ratify the bill for it to become law.

“The states are now falling over themselves to ratify the woman suffrage amendment… Gov. Norbeck has announced that a special session will be held in this state the fore part of January.  The political power already possessed by the women thru state suffrage makes in a little dangerous to oppose suffrage as a national issue.”
The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), June 19, 1919.

Norbeck would have called it immediately but felt it “would work an unnecessary hardship and inconvenience on the farm members, who make up a majority of both houses, to take them away from their work during the busy season of fall and winter”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), June 12, 1919.

October 23-25: The state League of Women Voters (LWV) held their annual meeting in Mitchell.  It was scheduled to correlate with the meetings of the state Federation of Women’s Clubs and Library Association, with a joint session held on the 23rd.  Prominent speakers included Carrie Chapman Catt, Julia Lathrop (New York), national chair of Child Welfare association, Mrs. Peter Olson (Minneapolis), prominent in the YWCA, Catherine McCulloch of Illinois for the LWV Committee on Unification of Laws, and Mrs. Edward P. Costigan, the LWV committee chair for food supply and demand. This was the first stop for them on a tour of the western United States to organize state LWV chapters [Madison Daily Leader (SD), September 27, 1919, October 11, 1919 and October 21, 1919; The Woman Citizen 4(19) (November 15, 1919), 487].  “The purpose of the conference is to make plans for the organizing of leagues throughout the state and arranging work for the ratification campaign” [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), September 17, 1919; The Woman Citizen 4 (December 9, 1919), 506]. Carrie Chapman Catt attended and while speaking asked those had been active in the first 1890 campaign to rise–twenty-five women were given “badges of honor” as movement veterans [The Woman Citizen 4(19) (November 15, 1919), 487]. Also at the meeting, Alice Lorraine Daly, the head of Women in Industry for SD LWV, spoke about the gendered inequality of teacher pay [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 30, 1919].  The result of the meeting was state LWV support for prohibition, suffrage, equal pay, gender separate facilities at the state reform school in Plankinton, opposition to prohibition referendum, endorsement of a uniform ballot across states, better teacher pay, teacher training, Americanization, child protection, literacy, citizenship standards, and physical training and play for rural students [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 31, 1919].

October-November: Gov. Norbeck agreed to call the ratification session only if legislators agreed to attend at their own expense. Pyle led efforts to telephone and telegraph legislators to get the required number of pledges to attend that the governor required. They were successful in getting pledges, and the session was called on November 30th to be held following regularly-scheduled party proposal meetings at the capitol. There were some counties that elected their legislators to serve also as party delegates, “proposalmen,” so they could attend the special session with expenses paid by their central committees [Madison Daily Leader (SD), October 31, 1919, November 12, 1919; Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), November 14, 1919; The Herald-Advance (SD), November 14, 1919; New-York Tribune (NY), November 12, 1919; The Suffragist 8(5) (June 1920), 108, (September 1920), 204; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), November 20, 1919]. Agnes Turner of Sisseton, Ruth Hipple of Pierre, May Ghrist of Miller, Mrs. Charles Williams of Hand Co., and Mrs. Mullaley of Pierre were elected delegates to their respective Republican and Democratic meetings [The Woman Citizen 4(22) (December 20, 1919), 608-609].

“The women were in evidence at this their first opportunity to get into the political game, and each convention [in the state] had its showing of women, the democrats leading with three on the floor, the republicans two and the nonpartisans one.  The republicans gave a secretaryship of the convention to one of their women representatives on the floor, while both republicans and democrats placed women on their list of presidential electors.”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), December 9, 1919.

December 3-4: The special session of the state legislature was held to ratify the federal suffrage amendment [The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), December 4, 1919; Madison Daily Leader (SD), December 5, 1919].  The bill was ratified in South Dakota at at 12:44 a.m. on December 4, 1919 [The Woman Citizen 4(22) (December 20, 1919), 608-609; Easton, “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota,” 226]. Trains left Pierre at 2 a.m. to take legislators home.  South Dakota was the twenty-first state to ratify the amendment [South New Berlin Bee (NY), December 13, 1919].


February 12: Dorothy Rehfeld, “the leading woman attorney of South Dakota,” served as state representative to the victory convention of NAWSA and first LWV congress at the Congress Hotel in Chicago. She addressed the convention on “laws concerning women” on opening day [Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 14, 1920; Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), February 21, 1920]. 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 [The Woman Citizen 4(27) (April 24, 1920), 1168 and 4(45) (May 29, 1920), 1323; Carrie Chapman Catt memo, March 22, 1920, on NAWSA letterhead, Rehfeld’s passport application file, Ancestry.com; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), May 20, 1920].

Rehfeld’s 1920 passport application photo, Ancestry.com.

June: Hattie Fellows of Sioux Falls, the National Woman’s Party chair for South Dakota, lobbied state Republican committeemen “to exert their influence in behalf of ratification” on the legislatures of Delaware, Connecticut, and Vermont [The Suffragist 8(5) (June 1920), 108].

September: The League of Women Voters organized for the first congressional district at a meeting in Mitchell. Local women arranged a suffrage jubilee in East Side park as a closing session to celebrate the final ratification of the 19th Amendment. They arranged for a municipal band performance and a children’s pageant “depicting the fight for suffrage” with thirty-six girls representing the ratifying states.  The planning committee included Mrs. P.H. Kelley, Laura Lindley, Margaret Swift, and Myra Pepper Weller [The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), August 26, 1920, September 9, 1920; Madison Daily Leader (SD), September 7, 1920, September 11, 1920].


February: A bill for women to serve on juries was introduced in the state House but failed by over 45 votes, opponents making an argument that jury service was a duty like military service, not a right like suffrage [Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 7, 1921; The Pioneer-Review (Philip SD), February 10, 1921].

March 19-20: The South Dakota League of Women Voters held their state convention at the Cataract Hotel in Sioux Falls, with meetings held in their ballroom.  The program included Mrs. James Paige of Minneapolis (regional director), as well as the election of officers and national delegates.  Belle Leavitt made local arrangements [Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), March 11, 1921; The Pioneer-Review (Philip SD), March 10, 1921; The Citizen-Republican (Scotland SD), March 17, 1921; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), March 25, 1921].

The call for the South Dakota League of Women Voters convention by Ruth Hipple and Mamie Shields Pyle concluded:
“By faith we have won the fight for suffrage.  The League of Women Voters now stands organized in every state in the union.  It is a vital and helpful force in our country.  Heed this call, women of South Dakota.  There are many important questions coming before you during the next two years which you much decide with your ballot.  Answer this call and let us continue the work of educating a conscientious, well informed electorate.”
Sisseton Weekly Standard (SD), March 11, 1921, et al.

December: The state League of Women Voters supported the issues of: jury rights for women, the right of joint guardianship of both parents over children, and the appointment of women on state boards dealing with women and children [Madison Daily Leader (SD), December 6, 1921].

“The objects of the league are to offer unpartisan information for the education of the voter and a common meeting ground for the women of all parties to work together for those things in which they have a common interest”
Madison Daily Leader (SD), December 20, 1921.


Report of speeches by Gladys Pyle, Ella Crawford, Belle Leavitt, and others at the state LWV meeting in Sioux Falls — “To make democracy work is the great task before the league of woman voters” [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), January 11, 1922].

February 27: LWV national president Maud Wood Park was the key speaker at a banquet at the Cataract Hotel in Sioux Falls, hosted by the Minnehaha County LWV. Governor McMaster gave a welcoming address for Park and Mamie Pyle was a speaker for the reception given her [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), February 17, 1922, February 18, 1922; Madison Daily Leader (SD), February 20, 1922].

April: The state LWV supported the following issues: the office of state/county school superintendents being outside partisan politics and eliminate their term limit; increase the capacity of the state tuberculosis sanitarium; remove girls training school from Plankinton to new locality; an 8 hr workday for women workers or 44 hrs/week; and the establishment of a minimum wage commission [Madison Daily Leader (SD), April 13, 1922].


January: The SD LWV, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the WCTU went to the state legislature to support legislation for women’s jury service, regarding the status of illegitimate children, and a maternity law bill to comply with the Sheppard–Towner Act [Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (SD), January 6, 1923].

April: The national convention for LWV was held in Des Moines, and many of the South Dakota members, including Nanna Hoffman and Belle Leavitt, took the opportunity to participate and speak at the convention [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), March 3, 1923, April 7, 1923, April 11, 1923].

May: The SD LWV announced new officers and that the “main objectives of the League of Women Voters will be the outlawing of war, the enforcement of law, and getting out 75 per cent of the voters at the next election” [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), May 14, 1923].


November 20-22: The SD LWV met in Pierre with arrangements by Ruth Hipple. Expected speakers were Marguerite Wells and Mrs. Parkes of Minneapolis (the region director and secretary), the four South Dakota women recently elected to the state legislature, Mamie Pyle, and state department chairs [Weekly Pioneer-Times (Deadwood, SD), November 19, 1924]. Issues selected at the state convention to support included: ratification of the children’s amendment; adequate appropriation for Girls’ Training school at Mitchell; support of entire program of the child welfare commission; enactment of a bill requiring jury service from women on the same terms as from men, excepting mothers of small children; and enactment of a bill requiring public notice of the intention to marry [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), December 11, 1924].


The SD LWV begins publication of The Discerning Voter [The Discerning Voter 1(2) (September 1925), USD Vermillion]. The publication expressed the organization’s support of the peace movement and World Court, and opposition to compulsory military training at state universities [The Discerning Voter 1(4) (November 1925), 1; The Discerning Voter 1(5) (December 1925; January 1926), 1].

October: The SD LWV was held in Mitchell with key addresses by region secretary Mrs. J.R. Parkes of Minneapolis, national councilor on legislation Julia C. Lathrop, and Mitchell Evening Republican editor W.R. Ronald on the subject of world peace [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), October 24, 1925; The Discerning Voter 1(4) (November 1925), 3].

“Mrs. Pyle carries with her always the spirit and unflinching courage of the suffrage days in which she and other devoted ones carried on despite discouragements and rebuffs well calculated to unnerve the most ardent enthusiast.  It is to these unflagging workers of suffrage campaign days that we owe our present equality at the ballot box”
The Discerning Voter 1(4) (November 1925), 3.

“It is the League of Women Voters.  The thoughtful woman finds in this organization a flexible instrument which is projecting into our national life a definite force of intelligent instruction along political lines.  Consistently, the League has held itself clear of party affiliations or political intrigue, until now, after five years of activity, it commands the respect of men and women everywhere as a body which is doing exactly what it proposed to do,–promoting political education among the electorate”
The Discerning Voter 1(5) (December 1925; January 1926), 2.

The Dean of Women at Huron College, Miriam Crawford Spiers, formed a Younger Voters League, branch of the LWV, at the college, and their first project was discussion groups for Peace Week [The Discerning Voter 1(5) (December 1925; January 1926), 4].


July: “After [the National Woman’s Party’s] annual convention in Colorado Springs, equal rights envoys motor to Rapid City, South Dakota, where they and group of western women meet with vacationing President Coolidge and ask for his aid in passing [the Equal Rights Amendment] pending in Congress. Coolidge claims he will lead the fight if women’s groups unite behind amendment.” [Detailed Chronology: National Woman’s Party History, Library of Congress-American Memory, 30, photograph of the envoy].

November 1-3: The SD LWV held its eighth annual convention in Aberdeen. A number of state officials, including Governor Bulow and state senators, state, region, and national LWV officers, newspaper editors, and educators were scheduled to speak. Subjects for discussion included: legal status of women, child welfare, education, living costs, international cooperation to prevent war, and efficiency in government [Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD), October 29, 1927].


Gertrude Feige, LWV state president:
“Let us hold fast to that which we know is good; never lose our sense of direction or appreciation of true values…. It is better to go slowly and educate ourselves than to acquire legions who lightly scratch the surface and never discover the precious values which are to be found only after patiently searching for the truth. Slowly the leaven will spread until many serious minded, patriotic citizens will realize that one of the greatest and most important means of improving the quality of our government is the method of adult political education…. While we are all proud of our democratic form of government we must remember that it is considered one of the greatest experiments in government in the world today.”
Daily Plainsman (Huron, SD), November 1, 1930.

And Beyond…

Mable Rewman (the finance chair for the 1918 campaign) later married Guy Frary and moved to Vermillion. There she contacted history professor Herbert Schell about recording the history of the suffrage movement in South Dakota. He found a student Dorinda Reed to write the history for her thesis in 1958. Reed’s thesis, The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota, was reprinted by the SD Historical Society Press in 1976 for the state commission on the status of women [Kirk in Lahlum/Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box, 304].

In 1974, Sally Roesch Wagner and Matilda Joslyn Gage’s granddaughter, also named Matilda Gage, were part of a discussion at the Aquinas Center at Northern State University about her grandmother’s suffrage work. The event was sponsored by Aberdeen NOW (National Organization of Women) for Women’s Equality Day. Wagner was writing a biography of Matilda Joslyn Gage using material and records from Gage’s granddaughter. Wagner’s book came out in 1976 as a South Dakota Bicentennial project and was sponsored by the Aberdeen Area National Organization for Women (NOW) — Wagner was quoted: “After reading the articles in Gage’s collection, it was clear to me that they needed to be written up for the daughters of 1976… What was happening then is still happening now” [Joani Nelson, “Women Review Gage biography,” The Exponent [NSU] (1974-09-05), 2; Brenda Jons, “Area woman authors suffrage book,” The Exponent [NSU] (1976-01-08), 4].

Before 18891889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-19101911-19121913-19141915-19161917-1918 — After 1918