Timeline of South Dakota Suffrage, Before 1889

Before 1889 — 1889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-19121913-19141915-19161917-1918After 1918

Key Players

Enos Stutsman
Nelson Miner
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Marietta Bones
Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes
Julia Gage Carpenter
John Pickler
Alice M.A. Pickler
Helen M. Barker
Gov. Gilbert Pierce


When Dakota Territory was organized in 1861, only white men were eligible to vote, in accordance with the federal Organic Act. In 1867, in the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, the Organic Act was amended to include black men and Dakota Territory adopted legislation to enfranchise black men [“Introduction,” Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 4-5]. Then in 1868…

December 21: Legislator Enos Stutsman of Pembina County introduced a bill on December 21, 1868 to “To confer upon women the elective franchise and eligibility to office” [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory, vol. 1 (1915), 508-509; Excerpts from Correspondence (given by Mrs. John A. Pickler, Faulkton), South Dakota Historical Collections 2 (Aberdeen: News Printing Co., 1904), 27-28]. The House report on the bill, File No. 28, stated “While your committee favor the bill, they believe that a measure so far in advance of old fogy notions should be submitted to general discussion and careful consideration” [Excerpts, SDHC, 27]. A New York newspaper later speculated that since women were then scarce in Dakota, Stutsman’s bill had been intended as an inducement for females to settle in the territory [Malone Palladium (NY), January 7, 1869]. 

December 23: The whole territorial House passed the bill on a vote of 14 to 9 [Excerpts, SDHC, 27] .

December 29: After the bill went to the territorial Council, Charles Rossteucher of Yankton (a brewer) offered a resolution (perhaps mockingly?) to allow the “women in our midst equally as sincere advocates of those rights” who were present to speak on the floor “that they may be heard upon a question of so great importance to the welfare of this nation,” but his resolution failed [Excerpts, SDHC, 27]. According to a historical report by Alice M.A. Pickler in 1904: “I do not find any contemporary newspaper comment, but from the general character of the men, particularly of Mr. Rossteucher, I am of the opinion that the entire action of the council was prompted by a spirit of mischief.” [Excerpts, SDHC, 28]. The territorial Council then voted against the measure by a vote of 7 to 6; “women professed to be disappointed” [Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory, vol. 1 (1915), 508-509].


After a “burlesque” substitute bill was put in its place, the last action on the Stutsman bill was taken in the negative on January 12, 1869 [Excerpts, SDHC, 28].


February: Captain Nelson Miner proposed a woman suffrage bill, Council Bill No. 51, “and he defended its provisions in a short and pointed speech.” It carried in the Council by one vote but failed in the House [Daily Press and Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 4, 1879; Canton Advocate (SD), February 6, 1879, February 13, 1879].

“To the surprise of a great many people of both sexes, Capt. Miner’s woman suffrage bill passed the council this morning, by a vote of seven to six.  The bill has been looked upon as a huge joke, and the public had hardly given it a serious thought. But in its present shape the query arises, will it pass the house? And to this interrogatory no one can give a definite answer.  The house has not been canvassed upon the subject and as there are many silent members therein it is difficult to tell what they are sometimes thinking about.  The bill will be transmitted to the house tomorrow.”
Daily Press and Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 4, 1879.

The territorial legislature passed a law giving women the right to vote at school district meetings if they met citizenship and residency requirements. Those district meetings made decisions on school taxes, building sites, teacher salaries, and selected local school offices for director, clerk, and treasurer–offices which women could hold as of 1879. Incorporated cities could set up their own independent school districts. For independent districts, local elected officials (not public meetings) chose school board members [Canton Advocate (SD), March 6, 1879; Mary Kay Jennings, “Lake County Woman Suffrage Campaign in 1890,” South Dakota History (1975), 391; “Introduction,” and Jones, “The Women Voted,” in Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 6, 195, 202].


In 1881, women were made eligible to hold the position of county superintendent of public instruction (in addition to local school offices) [Jones, “The Women Voted,” in Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 202]. Between 1882 and 1918, fourteen counties elected women as county superintendent more than 10 times; Lawrence County elected a woman in 17 of 19 elections. Four never had a woman as county superintendent during that period: Campbell, Dewey, Walworth, and Yankton [Jones in Equality, 205-206].


It was reported that suffragists in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had publicized their opposition to the admission of Dakota territory as a state without women’s suffrage [Yankton Press & Dakotan (SD), March 3, 1882; April 11, 1882; Canton Advocate (SD), April 27, 1882]. In 1884, the National Women’s Suffrage party did the same [Yankton Press & Dakotan (SD), December 18, 1884].


South Dakota’s laws regarding school elections shifted in 1883 so that townships each had a central school district and all school questions being decided at ballot elections–except for fifteen counties that held onto the old plan that made decisions via school district meetings and the cities with independent school districts. In the counties where the process changed and in newly-created counties, women were disenfranchised from voting on school questions or being candidates for school boards [Anthony and Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (Rochester NY: Anthony, 1902), 561; Jones, “The Women Voted,” in Lahlum and Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box, 195-196, 202].

One of the leaders of the national suffrage movement, Matilda Joslyn Gage of New York, came to Dakota Territory in the summer of 1883 and undertook a series of lectures “at various points in the Territory during the summer to awaken public sentiment on this question” [Anthony and Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902), 552]. Gage and Bones’ campaign work that year was “principally done upon the line of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad,” which furnished passes for them [Report of the sixteenth annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1884 (Rochester, N.Y. : National Woman Suffrage Association, 1884), 81]. Gage wrote to the 1883 delegates of the state constitutional convention to request equal suffrage be included in the constitution, and she also wrote an open letter to the people of the territory about “the legal injustices to women in the proposed new code and urging them to write all delegates objecting to the introduction of the world ‘male’ into the proposed constitution” [Early History of Brown County, usgwarchives.net, p186].

Several of Gage’s children lived with their families in the Aberdeen area, so she stayed with them on her visits to Dakota Territory. For more about Gage: Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Shirley Carpenter.

In 1883, the first statehood convention was held at Germania Hall in Sioux Falls. Suffragist Marietta Bones was granted her request to address the convention on equal suffrage for five minutes, presented a petition from Day County voters, and attend hearings of the Committee on Elections. Gage and the National Woman Suffrage Association also sent the convention a memorial asking for a suffrage plank in the constitution. While some delegates expressed opposition to women voting at all, others claimed that they were opposed to “all radical issues” (including suffrage and prohibition) in order to create a constitution that would be unobjectionable–the constitution had to pass a popular vote. Col. Melvin Grigsby stated that “no one would vote against the constitution because something is left out, but they will if something objectionable is inserted.” George H. Hand of Yankton was quoted that self-government should be their primary concern; “Prohibition, female suffrage and other issues should be laid aside for statehood.” Arthur C. Mellette of Watertown supported school suffrage, but not full suffrage, for women: “There is a fairness in allowing a mother to vote upon matters pertaining to the education of her children.  She can do it intelligently.  She has no superior in such a qualification.  It should not be laughed down.” Only Gideon C. Moody was reported to have expressed support for including in the constitution the right for women to vote on all questions and hold political office [Kimball Graphic (SD), September 14, 1883, September 21, 1883; Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 14, 1883; Canton Advocate (SD), September 20, 1883, page 5, page 7, (quoting the speech) page 10; Report of the sixteenth annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1884 (Rochester, N.Y. : National Woman Suffrage Association, 1884), 81].

Gideon C. Moody’s comments at the 1883 statehood convention as reported in the press:
“I favor woman suffrage.  I am not like the gentleman from Codington [Mr. Mellette], who is willing to trust his children to woman, but not himself.  Give woman the ballot, let her hold office, and you raise her at once in intelligence.  I know of no reason why my wife and daughter are not as able to hold office as I am, though they may not be so willing. [Laughter, and cries of ‘that’s so.’]”
Canton Advocate (SD), September 20, 1883.

October: A territorial Home Protection Party was organized around the cause of prohibition at a meeting in Huron and adopted a woman suffrage resolution. Of those who signed the party resolutions, one was a woman, Mrs. J.M. Hartsough [Yankton Press & Dakotan (SD), October 18, 1883]. Some members of the new party even advocated opposing the state constitution because it did not include prohibition or suffrage [N.J. Dunham, A History of Jerauld County South Dakota: From the Earliest Settlement to January 15, 1909 (Wessington Springs SD, 1910), 65].

A territorial suffrage society existed {but I don’t know much about it} [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), October 20, 1883].


The Republican party for Dakota adopted a universal suffrage platform for that year [Kimball Graphic, May 9, 1884].

Marietta M. Bones served as NWSA vice-president for Dakota Territory, Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes of Sioux Falls was honorary vice-president, and Julia Louise Gage Carpenter was an executive committee member {Julia Carpenter was Matilda Joslyn Gage’s daughter} [Report of the sixteenth annual Washington Convention, March 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, 1884 (Rochester, N.Y. : National Woman Suffrage Association, 1884), 81; 139; 140; 141].


The first community suffrage organization was established by Marietta Bones in Webster. She later reported about campaigning in the territory: “We lack organization—the country being so sparsely settled, and such wide distances between towns, that the settlers are comparatively strangers to each other” [NWSA, Report of the Sixteenth Annual Washington Convention (Rochester NY: Charles Mann, 1884), 81; Cecelia M. Wittmayer, “The 1889-1890 Woman Suffrage Campaign: A Need to Organize,” South Dakota History (1982), 202].

January 26:  In Bismarck, Faulkton’s John Pickler introduced a bill for women’s suffrage in Dakota Territory’s House of Representatives. Supporters circulated petitions in Huron, Hyde County, and Kingsbury County [Kimball Graphic (SD), January 2, 1885; Canton Advocate (SD), February 5, 1885; Yankton Press & Dakotaian (SD), December 31, 1884, February 3, 1885]. The bill was for voting only, not for holding political office [“Introduction,” Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 6].

“The ladies are going to tackle the Dakota Legislature on the suffrage question.  That’s right girls.  Go for ‘em and don’t let up until they say you can vote. We would rather march up to the polls with a good looking lady by our side than in the company with an election bummer.”
Sully County Watchman (Onida SD), January 24, 1885.

See images of the territorial capitol building in Bismarck courtesy of ndstudies.gov, 4th Grade, Section 5, “The New Capitol” and history.nd.gov, Unit 6, Set 6, “Capitol Fire.”

February: Women in the southern part of Dakota did petition work to bring to the legislature to support his bill [“Introduction,” Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 6]. In February, legislator R.F. Pettigrew of Sioux Falls presented a petition in support of the suffrage bill from Marietta Bones and other supporters [Canton Advocate (SD), February 26, 1885; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), February 24, 1905].

Pickler’s bill was passed in the House. “The gallery was full and many ladies were on the floor of the House” to observe the proceedings and “when the result of the vote was announced vociferous applause followed, when an adjournment was had and Pickler was congratulated by the ladies present” who “almost hugged Pickler to death for the victory” [Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 13, 1885; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), February 18, 1885; Canton Advocate (SD), February 19, 1885; Kimball Graphic (SD), February 20, 1885; Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton SD), February 24, 1905].

Tremendously interesting account of the final speeches and discussion leading to and after the passing vote in the House in Bismarck Weekly Tribune (ND), February 13, 1885, pg4, pg5. It also satirically referred to V.V. Barnes (DeSmet), J.T. Blakemore (Highmore), and John Pickler as Miss Belva Barnes, Elizabeth Cady Blakemore, and Miss Susan B. Pickler. In the text of their arguments, they were feminized. The author used “she/her” pronouns, and about Blakemore wrote that he spoke “with a slight whisk of her bangs and readjustment of her bustle.”

More extracts:

“[Dakota] may now claim that it is the place of refuge for every strong minded, sharped nosed old maid between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and is truly the home of short haired women and long haired men… The grand imperial territory with all her reputation for broad principles and liberal government, with all her natural inducements for capital and enterprise, is now threatened with a female suffrage blight…”

“the galleries and lobbies of the house were crowded yesterday afternoon, and the ladies in attendance were numerous”

“MR. M’CUMBER, he would vote no, on the bill, because the territory didn’t want it, the ladies didn’t want it, and society didn’t want it.
MR. STEELE voted for the bill because the territory wanted it. the ladies wanted it, and he wanted it.”

“MR WARD, of Turner county, married the daughter of a widow, who educated herself and understood political economy. He believed she should have the use of the ballot and voted aye.”

“PASSED. The vote resulted in 29 for and 18 against the passage of the bill. There was loud howling of great joy and throwing of hats by the enthusiasts, and for a few moments the house was in a state of wild confusion.”

“The prediction comes from Bismarck that the council will pass the woman suffrage bill and that the governor will veto it.  It is well that his residence is on the outskirts of civilization where he can readily flee to the wilderness.  There are a dozen or two women in Dakota who would make life a burden to him if he was within reaching distance.
Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 19, 1885.

Meantime the women of Dakota, with a few strong minded exceptions, are taking no interest in the matter.
Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 21, 1885.

March: Pickler’s bill passed the Council with an amendment to submit the question to a popular vote, but was vetoed by Governor Pierce and sustained by the House with a vote of 26 to 18 [Silver Creek Local (NY), March 13, 1885; Canton Advocate (SD), March 19, 1885; Kingsbury/Smith, History of Dakota Territory, vol. 2 (1915), 1402; Jennings, “Lake County Woman Suffrage Campaign,” (1975), 391; Wittmayer, “The 1889-1890 Woman Suffrage Campaign,” 200]. The American Woman Suffrage Association, New York suffragists, and the Cook County Woman Suffrage Association (IL) who had been paying attention to the proceedings, denounced Gov. Pierce, and the New York suffragists submitted a request to President Cleveland to have Pierce removed from office [Geneva Daily Gazette (NY), March 20, 1885; Canton Advocate (SD), March 26, 1885, April 2, 1885; Kimball Graphic (SD), October 30, 1885; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), March 18, 1885; Sully County Watchman (Onida SD), March 21, 1885].

“In the closing chapter of his veto message the governor says: ‘If women are to be enfranchised, let it be done, not as a thirty days’ wonder, but as a merited reform resulting from mature reflection, approved by the public conscience and sanctioned by the enlightened judgement of the people.'”
Canton Advocate (SD), March 19, 1885.

Text of the veto as published: Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), March 18, 1885; The Herald (Big Stone City SD), March 20, 1885.

“A great many Dakota women who do not want to vote and would not vote if they could are scolding mad over the governor’s veto of the woman suffrage bill.  Even though they do not care to avail themselves of the privilege of the ballot they look upon it as ungentlemanly and impolite in a governor to say ‘you shant.’ Yet, after all spring bonnets will ever remain with them a more interesting theme than spring elections.”
Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), March 16, 1885.

September: The Dakota W.C.T.U. sent a committee of Alice Pickler (superintendent of their Franchise Department), Helen M. Barker, and Julia Welch to attend the 1885 statehood convention at Germania Hall and ask the committee on elections and suffrage to omit the word male from qualifications for voting. They were sent to represent “many of the women had become landholders and were interested in the location of schoolhouses, county seats, State capital and matters of taxation.” The convention also received letters from national leaders Lucy Stone, Henry B. Blackwell, Susan B. Anthony, and Lillie Devereux Blake, as well as Marietta Bones of Webster. While delegate Ward of Yankton presented a petition from 45 Yankton residents for the submission of the suffrage question by a separate clause. The convention did not include full suffrage in their proposed constitution, but did include school elections and offices and a provision to put full suffrage on the first ballot [Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 21, 1885; Kimball Graphic (SD), October 2, 1885; Anthony and Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902), 552-553].

“Gentlemen of the convention, do yourselves honor in bestowing upon oppressed woman all the privileges in law that you so much enjoy….
This country is not governed by the consent of the people, and cannot be with one-half of its citizens disfranchised[sic]—it is in no sense a republican form of government, and is as aptly said by Matilda Joslyn Gage: ‘The ballot is consent.'”
— By Marietta M. Bones, vice-president for Dakota, National Woman Suffrage Association
Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 21, 1885.

October 13-15: In 1885, the American Woman Suffrage Association held its 17th annual meeting at the Church of the Redeemer Universalist church in Minneapolis, Minnesota [Image of the church, via the Hennepin County Library]. John and Alice Pickler attended and both spoke at the meeting. John, “the chivalrous legislator of Dakota…was invited to tell the history of the bill and did so in a vigorous speech.  He said its passage was materially aided by the efforts of Eastern remonstrants to defeat it, and added: ‘There are peculiar reasons why our women should have their rights, as they own fully one-fourth of the land and are veritable heroines'” [Anthony and Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902),  414].

More: Linda A. Cameron, “American Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Minneapolis, 1885,” MNopedia (August 2019).


The Dakota Woman’s Christian Temperance Union brought petitions for full suffrage to the House and Council chambers of the territorial legislature, but the vote failed [Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), February 11, 1887; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), February 16, 1887; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), February 17, 1887; Wittmayer, “The 1889-1890 Woman Suffrage Campaign,” 200; “Introduction,” Rozum and Lahlum, Equality at the Ballot Box (2019), 6]. Representative J.M. Moore of Sully County introduced a full suffrage bill to the house–Moore was described as “a man in his 73d year.  He is a fluent debator, with a rich vein of humor, but in all things serious and honest” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), February 18, 1887, March 4, 1887; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), February 23, 1887]. After an afternoon of discussion and “a number of strong speeches,” the committee reported the bill for indefinite postponement, which was voted for 30 to 17… “so Woman Suffrage is dead for the present.” [Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), March 7, 1887, Image 1; Image 2; Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), March 9, 1887; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), March 18, 1887]

The woman suffrage advocates have no love for the recent legislature. They attribute their small showing in it largely to the absence of their brilliant champion of two years ago, Maj. Pickler.
Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), March 31, 1887.

At a W.C.T.U. convention at M.E. church in Yankton, Helen Barker, then president of the territorial W.C.T.U. “alluded to the discussion of woman suffrage by the legislators at Bismarck last fall, saying that it was a disgrace to Dakota, and that she heard more sentimental nonsense about the ‘sweet, dear, beautiful women of Dakota’ than she supposed Dakota men were capable of giving.”
Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), April 27, 1887

Reversing the disenfranchisement occasioned by the 1883 changes in school voting, the territorial legislature during their 1887 session granted women the right to vote at school elections by separating school questions from the general ballot, making two separate ballots so all resident taxpayers including women could cast votes on the school ballot. They also changed the process for independent city districts, so that school boards were chosen by public ballot rather than by city officials. Eligibility to hold offices of school director, judge or clerk of elections, township clerk, or county supt of public schools was defined as “all persons, either male or female” [Anthony and Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902), 561; Nelson in Lauck et al., 133; Commercial Advertiser (Potsdam Junction NY), March 16, 1915; Jones, “The Women Voted,” in Lahlum and Rozum, Equality at the Ballot Box, 196, 203].

September: Helen Barker led the territorial W.C.T.U. convention in Huron. The convention passed resolutions to request the Prohibition party to endorse suffrage and continue to petition the legislature for suffrage “believing that constitutional prohibition cannot be secured nor prohibitory laws enforced without the ballot in the hands of women” [Union County Courier (Elk Point SD), September 21, 1887; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), September 30, 1887].


September 7-10: At Armory Hall (a former skating rink) in Fargo, the territorial W.C.T.U. convention led by Helen Barker featured a speech by Alice Pickler on the need for work at the 1889 legislature and a table near the entrance with “suffrage papers and leaflets put on sale by our territorial superintendent of franchise Mrs Alice A. Pickler, of Faulkton” [Mitchell Capital (SD), September 14, 1888; Press and Daily Dakotaian (Yankton SD), September 29, 1888].

“Petitions are being circulated at Brookings asking the next legislature to grant women the right of sufferage” [Turner County Herald (SD), November 22, 1888].

Before 1889 — 1889-18901891-18961897-18981899-19081909-1910
1911-19121913-19141915-19161917-1918After 1918