History of Women's Suffrage in SD up to 1904.
This history appears in Chapter CII of "History of South
Dakota" by Doane Robinson, Vol. I (1904), pages 597-604 and was
scanned, OCRed and edited by Joy Fisher, email@example.com
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HISTORY OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE IN SOUTH DAKOTA.
The territory of Dakota was created in 1861, but in 1889 it entered the
Union divided into two separate states, North and South Dakota. As early as
1872 the territorial legislature lacked only one vote of conferring full
suffrage on women. The sparsely settled country and the long distances made any
organized work an impossibility, although a number of individuals were strong
advocates of equal suffrage. In 1879 women were given the right to vote at
school meetings. In 1883 a school township law was passed requiring regular
polls and a private ballot instead of special meetings, which took away the
suffrage from women in all but a few counties.
At the convening of the territorial legislature in January, 1885, Major J.
A. Pickler (afterwards member of congress), without solicitation, early in the
session introduced a bill in the house granting full suffrage to women, as under
the organic act the legislative body had the power to prescribe the
qualifications for the franchise. The bill passed the house, February 11th, by
twenty-nine ayes, nineteen noes. Soon afterward it passed the council by
fourteen ayes, ten noes, and its friends counted the victory won. But Governor
Gilbert A. Pierce, appointed by President Arthur and only, a few months in the
territory, failed to recognize the grand opportunity to enfranchise fifty
thousand American citizens by one stroke of his pen, and vetoed the bill. Not
only did it express the sentiment of the representatives elected by the voters,
but it had been generally discussed by the press of the territory and all the
newspapers but one were outspoken for it. An effort was made to carry it over
the governor's veto, but it failed.
In 1887 a law was passed enlarging the school suffrage possessed by women
and giving them the right to vote at all school elections and for all school
officers, and also making them eligible to any elective school office. At this
time, under the liberal provisions of the United States land laws, more than
one-third of the land in the territory was held by women.
In the same legislature of 1887 another effort was made to pass an equal
suffrage bill, and a committee from the franchise department of the Woman's
Christian Temperance Union, consisting of Mesdames Helen M. Barker, S. V. Wilson
and Alice M. A. Pickler, appeared before the committee and presented hundreds of
petitions from the men and women of the territory. The committee of both houses
reported favorably, but the bill failed by thirteen votes in the house and six
in the council.
It was mainly through women's instrumentality that a local option bill was
carried through this legislature, and largely through their exertions that it
was adopted by sixty-five out of the eighty-seven organized counties at the next
In October, 1885, the American Woman Suffrage Association held a national
convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was attended by a number of people
from Dakota, who were greatly interested. The next month the first suffrage
club was formed in Webster. Several local societies were afterwards started in
the southern part of the territory, but for five years no attempt was made at
bringing these together in a convention.
At the New Orleans Exposition, in 1885, the displays of Kansas, Dakota and
Nebraska taught the world the artistic value of grains and grasses for
decoration, but it was exemplified most strikingly in the Dakota's Woman's
Department, arranged by Mrs. J. M. Melton, of Fargo. Among the industrial
exhibits was a carriage robe sent from a leading furrier to represent the
skillful work of women in his employ. There were also bird fans, a curtain of
duck skins and cases of taxidermy, all prepared and cured by women, and a case
of work from women employed in the printing office of the Fargo Argus. Four
thousand bouquets of grasses were distributed on Dakota Day and carried away as
curious and beautiful memorials. All were made by women in the territory.
The long contention as to whether the territory should come into the Union
as one state or two, was not decided until 1889, when congress admitted two
states. Thenceforth there were two distinct movements for women suffrage, one in
North Dakota and one in South Dakota.
[The editor is indebted to Mrs. Alice M. A. Pickler, of Faulkton,
president of the State Woman Suffrage Association, for the material contained in
this part of the chapter.]
In June, 1883, a convention was held at Huron to discuss the question of
dividing the territory and forming two states, and a convention was called to
meet at Sioux Falls, September 4th, and prepared a constitution for those in the
southern portion. The suffrage leaders in the East were anxious that this
should include the franchise for women. Mrs. Matilda Joslyn Gage of New York,
vice-president-at-large of the National Suffrage Association, lectured at
various points in the territory during the summer to awaken public sentiment on
this question. On September 6th a petition signed by one thousand Dakota men
and women, praying that the word "male" should not be incorporated in the
constitution, was presented to the convention, accompanied by personal appeals.
There was some disposition to grant this request, but the opponents prevailed
and only the school ballot was given to women, which they already possessed by
act of the legislature of 1879. However, this constitution never was acted
The desire for division and statehood became very urgent throughout the
great territory, and this, with the growing sentiment in congress in favor of
the same, induced the legislature of 1885 to provide for a convention at Sioux
Falls, composed of members elected by the voters of the territory, to form a
constitution for the proposed new state of South Dakota and submit the same to
the electors for adoption, which was done in November, 1885. Many of the women
had become landholders and were interested in the location of school houses,
county seats, state capitals and matters of taxation. As their only
organization was the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, a committee was
appointed from that body, consisting of Alice M. A. Pickler, superintendent of
the franchise department, Helen M. Barker and Julia Welch, to appear before the
committee on suffrage and ask that the word "male" be left out of the
qualifications of electors. They were helped by letters to members of the
convention from Lucy Stone, Henry B. Blackwell, Susan B. Anthony, Lillie
Devereux Blake and others of national reputation. Seven of the eleven members
of the committee were willing to grant this request, but there was so much
opposition from the convention lest the chances of statehood might be imperiled,
that they compelled a compromise and it was directed that the first legislature
should submit the question to the voters. They did incorporate a clause,
however, that women properly qualified should be eligible to any school office
and should vote at any election solely for school purposes. This applied merely
to school trustees, as state and county superintendents are elected at general
and not special elections.
The constitution was ratified by the voters in 1885, with a provision that
"the legislature should at its first session after the admission of the state
into the Union, submit to a vote of the electors at the next general election,
the question whether the word 'male' should be stricken from the article of the
constitution relating to elections and the right of suffrage."
Congress at that time refused to divide the territory and thus the
question remained in abeyance awaiting statehood.
In 1889, an enabling act having passed by congress, delegates were elected
from the different counties to meet in convention at Sioux Falls to prepare for
the entrance of South Dakota into statehood. This convention reaffirmed the
constitution adopted in 1885, and again submitted it to the voters, who again
passed upon it favorably and the territory became a state November 2, 1889.
The first legislature met at once in Pierre and, although they were
required by the constitution to submit an amendment for woman suffrage, a vote
was taken as to whether this should be done. It stood in the senate, forty
yeas, one nay; absent or not voting, four; in the house, eighty-four yeas, nine
nays, twenty-one absent.
On November 11, 1889, Miss Anthony, in response to urgent requests from
the state, made a lecture tour of twelve cities and towns and addressed the
Farmers' Alliance at their convention in Aberdeen, when it officially indorsed
the suffrage amendment. On her return home she sent fifty thousand copies of
Senator T. W. Palmer's great woman suffrage speech to individual voters in
Dakota under his frank.
State Suffrage Association had been formed, with S. A. Ramsey, president;
Alonzo Wardall, vice-president; the Rev. M. Barker, secretary, and Mrs. Helen M.
Barker, treasurer and state organizer; but the beginning of this campaign found
the women with no funds and very little local organization. Mr. Wardall, who
was also secretary of the Farmers' Alliance, went to Washington and, with
Representative and Mrs. J. A. Pickler, presented a strong appeal for assistance
to the national suffrage convention in February, 1890. It was heartily
responded to and a South Dakota campaign committee was formed, with Miss Anthony
chairman. The officers and friends made vigorous efforts to raise a fund and
eventually five thousand five hundred dollars were secured. Of this amount
California sent one thousand dollars; Senator Stanford personally gave three
hundred dollars; Rachel Foster Avery, of Philadelphia, the same amount; Mrs.
Clara L. McAdow, of Montana, two hundred and fifty dollars; a number gave one
hundred dollars, among them United States Senator R. F. Pettigrew, of South
Dakota, and different states sent various sums. The speakers raised about one
thousand four hundred dollars, which went towards paying their expenses. Over
one thousand dollars were secured by other means. Most of the state workers
donated their expenses.
The first of May Miss Anthony returned to South Dakota and established
campaign headquarters in Huron. A mass convention of men and women was held and
an active state organization formed, with Mrs. Philena Everett Johnson,
president, and Mr. Wardall, vice-president, which co-operated with the national
committee and inaugurated an active campaign. The new state had adopted as its
motto, 'Under God the People Rule," and the suffragists wrote upon their
banners, " Under God the People Rule; Women are People." A large number of
national speakers came in the summer. Local workers would organize suffrage
clubs in the schoolhouses and these efforts would culminate in large rallies at
the county seats where some noted speakers would make addresses and perfect the
Those from the outside who canvassed the state were Henry B. Blackwell,
editor Woman's Journal, Boston; the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, national lecturer;
Mary Seymour Howell, of New York; the Rev. Olympia Brown, of Wisconsin; Matilda
Hindman, of Pennsylvania Carrie Chapman Catt, of Washington; Laura M. Johns, of
Kansas; Clara Berwick Colby, of Nebraska; the Rev. Helen C. Putnum, of North
Dakota, and Julia B. Nelson, of Minnesota. Miss Anthony was always and
everywhere the moving spirit and contributed her services the entire six months
without pay. When three hundred dollars were lacking to settle the final
expenses she paid them out of her own pocket. Mr. Blackwell also donated his
services. Most effective state work was done by Mrs. Emma Smith DeVoe, of
Huron, and the home of Mr. and Mrs. DeVoe was a haven of rest during the
Among the other valuable state workers were Dr. Nettie C. Hall, Mrs. Helen
M. Barker, and Mrs. Elizabeth M. Wardall, superintendent of press. A large
number of ministers indorsed the amendment. Two grand rallies of all the
speakers were held, one at Mitchell, August 26th and 27th, during which time
Miss Anthony, Mr. Blackwell, Miss Shaw and Mrs. Pickler addressed the Republican
state convention; the other during the state fair in September. The 17th was
Woman's Day," and the fair association invited ladies to speak. Miss Anthony,
Miss Shaw and Mrs. DeVoe complied. The summing up of the superintendent of
press was as follows Total number of addresses by national speakers, 789: state
speakers, 707; under the auspices of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union,
104; total, 1,600; local clubs of women organized, 400; literature sent out to
It would be difficult to put into words the hardships of this campaign of
1890, in a new state through the hottest and dryest summer on record.
Frequently the speakers had to drive twenty miles between the afternoon and
evening meetings and the audiences would come thirty miles. All of the
political state conventions declined to indorse the amendment. The Republicans
refused seats to the ladies on the floor of their convention, although Indians
in blankets were welcomed. The Democrats invited the ladies to seats, where
they listened to a speech against woman suffrage by E. W. Miller, land receiver
for Huron district, too indecent to print, which was received with cheers and
applause by the convention. The minority committee report, presented by Judge
Bangs, of Rapid City, asking for an indorsement, was overwhelmingly voted down.
A big delegation of Russians came to this convention wearing yellow badges
lettered, "Against Woman Suffrage and Susan B. Anthony."
The greatest disappointment of the campaign was the forming of an
independent party by the Farmers' Alliance and the Knights of Labor. The
Alliance at its convention the previous year, four hundred and seventy-eight
delegates present, at the close of Miss Anthony's address, had declared that
they would do all in their power to carry the suffrage amendment, and it was
principally on account of their assurances of support and on the invitation of
their leaders that she undertook the work in South Dakota. The Knights of Labor
at their convention in January of the present year had adopted a resolution that
said "We will support with all our strength the amendment to be voted on at the
next general election giving women the ballot-believing this to he the first
step toward securing those reforms for which all true Knights of Labor are
striving." But the following June these two organizations formed a new party
and absolutely refused to put a woman suffrage plank in their platform, although
Miss Anthony addressed their convention and implored them to keep their promise,
assuring them that their failure to support the amendment would be its death
blow. The previous summer H. L. Loucks, president of the Farmers' Alliance, had
made a special journey to the state suffrage convention at Minneapolis to invite
her to come to South Dakota to conduct this canvass. He was a candidate for
governor on this new party ticket and in his speech of acceptance did not
mention the pending amendment. Before adjourning the convention adopted a long
resolution containing seven or eight declarations, among them one that "No
citizen should be disfranchised on account of sex;" but so far as any party
advocacy was concerned the question was a dead issue.
A bitter contest was being made between Huron and Pierre for the location
of the state capital, and the woman suffrage amendment was freely used as an
article of barter. There were thirty thousand Russians, Poles, Scandinavians
and other foreigners in the state, most of whom opposed woman suffrage. The
liquor dealers and gamblers worked vigorously against it, and they were
reinforced by the women "remonstrants" of Massachusetts, who sent their
literature into every corner of the state.
At the election, November 4, 1890, the amendment received 22,072 ayes,
45,862 noes, majority opposed, 23,790. The Republicans carried the state by
At this same election an amendment was submited as to whether male Indians
should be enfranchised, it receiving an affirmative vote of forty-five percent,
that for women suffrage received thirty-five percent. Of the two classes of
voters it seemed the men preferred the Indians. It was claimed by many, however,
that they did not understand the wording of the Indian amendment and thought
they were voting against it. (A graphic account of this campaign, with many
anecdotes and personal reminiscences, will be found in the "Life and Work of
Susan B. Anthony," chapter XXXVIII.)
As the school suffrage possessed by women applied only to trustees and did
not include the important offices of state and county superintendants as it was
held that the franchise for this purpose could be secured only by a
constitutional amendment, it was decided to ask for this. Through the efforts of
Mrs. Anna R. Simmons and Mrs. Emma A. Cranmer, officers of the state
association, a bill for this purpose was secured from the legislature of 1893.
As there seemed to be no objection to women voting for school trustees, it was
not supposed that there would be any to extending the privilege for the other
school officers. It was submitted at the regular election in November, 1894,
and defeated 17,010 ayes, 22,682 noes, an opposing majority of 5,672.
In 1897 the above ladies made one more effort and secured from the
legislature the submission again of an amendment conferring the full suffrage on
women. The campaign was managed almost entirely by Mrs. Simmons and Mrs.
Cranmer. The national association assisted to the extent of sending a lecturer,
Mrs. Laura A. Gregg, of Kansas, who remained for two months preceding the
election and one hundred dollars' worth of literature also was furnished for
distribution. The Dakota women raised about one thousand five hundred dollars,
and every possible influence was exerted upon the voters. The returns of the
election in November, 1898, gave for the amendment 19,698; against 22,983;
adverse majority, 3,285.
In 1890, the amendment had received thirty-five per cent. of the whole
vote cast upon it; in 1898, it received seventy-seven per cent. The figures
show unmistakably that the falling off in the size of the vote was almost wholly
among the opponents.
Petitions have been presented to several legislatures to grant municipal
suffrage by statute, but a bill for this purpose has been brought to a vote only
once, in 1893, when it was passed by the senate, twenty-seven ayes, eleven noes;
and defeated in the house by only one vote.
ORGANIZATION.-After the defeat of the suffrage amendment in 1890, a more
thorough state organization was effected and a convention has been held every
year since. That of 1891 met in Huron and Mrs. Irene C. Adams was elected
president. Soon afterwards she compiled a leaflet showing the unjust laws for
women which disgraced the statute books.
In 1892 a successful annual meeting took place at Hastings and Mrs. Mary
A. Grosebeck was made president. In September, 1893, the convention was held in
Aberdeen during the Grain Palace Exposition. The state president and the
presideut-elect, Mrs. Emma A. Cranmer, had charge of the program for woman's
day, and Mrs. Clara Hoffman, of Missouri, gave addresses in the afternoon and
In 1894 Mrs. Anna R. Simmons was elected president and contnued in office
for six years. This year one hundred dollars was sent to aid the Kansas
campaign. During 1894 and 1895 she made twenty public addresses and held ten
parlor meetings. At the convention in Pierre in September, 1905, she was able
to report fifty clubs organized, with seven hundred members. Mrs. Carrie
Chapman Catt, chairman of the national organization committee, was present at
Active work was continued throughout 1896 and 1897, when the submission of
a suffrage amendment was secured. The year 1898 was given up to efforts for its
success. Mrs. C. C. King established and carried on almost entirely at her own
expense the South Dakota Messenger, a campaign paper which was of the greatest
service. The state convention met in Mitchell, September 28th, 29th and 30th.
Miss Elizabeth Upham Yates, of Maine, came as a representative of the national
association and gave two addresses to large audiences. The following October a
conference of national and state workers was held at Sioux Falls, the former
represented by Mrs. Chapman Catt, the Rev. Henriette G. Moore, of Ohio, and Miss
Mary G. Hay, national organizer. Several interesting public sessions were held.
The annual meeting of 1899 took place in Madison, September 5th and 6th.
The tenth convention met in Brookings, September 5, 1900. Mrs. Simmons having
removed from the state, Mrs. Alice M. A. Pickler was elected president. Mrs.
Philena Everet Johnson was made vice-president. Others who have served in the
official positions are vice-president, Mrs. Emma A. Cranmer; corresponding
secretaries, Mesdames Kate Uline Folger, F. C. Bidwell, Hannah W. Best;
treasurers, Mrs. Elizabeth M. Wardall, Mrs. Marion L. Bennett, Mrs. Clara M.
Williams; auditor, Mrs. John Davis; superintendents of literature, Mrs. Jane
Rooker Breeden, Mrs. Della Robinson King.
Among the prominent friends of woman suffrage may be mentioned the Hon.
Arthur C. Mellette, first state governor; United States Senators Richard F.
Pettigrew, James H. Kyle and Robert J. Gamble; Lieutenant-Governor D. T.
Hindman; Members of Congress J. A. Pickler, W. B. Lucas and E. W. Martin; the
Hons. S. A Ramsey and Coe I. Crawford; Attorney-General John L. Pyle, Judge D.
C. Thomas, General W. H. Beadle, Professor McClennen, of the Madison Normal
School, and ministers of many churches. The Hon. J. H. Patton and the Hon. W.
C. Bowers paid the expenses of the legislative committee of the suffrage
association while they were in Pierre during the winter of 1897 to secure the
submission of an amendment. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court A. J. Edgerton
was a pronounced advocate of woman suffrage and appointed a woman official
stenographer of his judicial district, the best salaried office within his gift.
Associate Justice Seward Smith appointed a woman clerk of the Faulk county
district court. The list of other men and women widely known and who have stood
faithfully for woman suffrage would be a long one. Among them are S. H.
Cranmer, Rev. Ramsey, Mrs. Ruby Smart, Kara Smart and Floy Cochrane.
LAWS.-Neither dower nor curtesy obtains. If either husband or wife die
withont a will, leaving a child or children or the lawful issue of one, the
survivor is entitled to one-half of the separate estate of the other. If there
are no children nor the issue of any, the survivor is entitled to one-half of
the estate and the other half goes to the kindred of the deceased. If there are
none the survivor takes all. A homestead of one hundred and sixty acres, or
one-quarter of an acre in town, may be reserved for the widow or widower.
Either husband or wife may dispose of separate property real or personal,
by deed or will, without the consent of the other. Joint real estate, including
the homestead, can be conveyed only by Signature of both, but the husband may
dispose of joint personal property without the consent of the wife.
In order to control her separate property the wife must keep it recorded
in the office of the county register.
On the death of an unmarried child the father inherits all of its
property. If he is dead and there are no other children, the mother inherits
it. If there are brothers and sisters she inherits a child's share.
A married woman cannot act as adminstrator. Of several persons claiming
and equally entitled to act as executors, males must be preferred to females.
A married woman can control her earnings outside the home only when living
separate from her husband.
The father is the legal guardian and has custody of the persons and
services of minor children. If he refuses to take the custody, or has abandoned
his family, or has been legally declared a drunkard4, the mother is entitled to
The law declares the husband the head of fanmily and he must support the
wife by his separate property or labor, but if he has not deserted her, and has
no separate property, and is too infirm to support her by his labor, the wife
must support him and their children out of her separate property or in other
ways to the extent of her ability. An act of February 21, 1896, makes the wife
liable for necessaries for the family purchased on her own account to the same
extent that her husband would be liable under a similar purchase, but with no
control over the joint earnings.
The causes for divorce are the same as in most states; six months'
residence is required. The disposition of the children is left entirely with the
In 1887, through the efforts of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union,
the "age of protection" for girls was raised from ten to fourteen years. In 1893
they tried to have it made eighteen, but the legislature compromised on sixteen
years. Rape in the first degree is punishable by imprisonment in the
penitentiary not less than ten years in the second degree not less than five
The penalty for seduction and for enticing the for purposes of
prostitution is prescribed by the same words, "is punishable," which in reality
leaves it to the judgment of the court, but the statutes fix the penalty for all
other crimes by the words "shall be punished." In addition to this latitude the
penalty for seduction or enticing for purposes of prostitution is, if the girl
is under fifteen, imprisonment in the penitentiary not more than five years or
in the county jail not more than one year, or by fine not exceeding one thousand
dollars, or both; with no minimum penalty.
SUFFRAGE.-The territorial legislature of 1879 gave women a vote on
questions pertaining to the schools, which were then decided at school meetings.
This was partially repealed by a law of 1883, which required regular polls and a
private ballot, but this act did not include fifteen counties which had school
districts fully established, and women still continue to vote at these district
school meetings. In 1887 a law was enacted giving women the right to vote at
all school elections for all officers, and making them eligible for all school
offices. The constitution which was adopted when South Dakota entered the Union
(1889) provided that "any woman having the required qualificaitions as to age,
residence and citizenship may vote at any election held solely for school
purposes." As state and county superintendents are elected at general and not
special elections, women can vote only for school trustees. They have no vote
on bonds or appropriations.
OFFICE HOLDING.--The state constitution rovides that all persons, either
male or female, being twenty-one years of age and having the necessary
qualifications, shall be eligible to the office of school director, treasurer,
judge, or clerk of school elections, county superintendent of public schools and
state superintendent of public instruction. All other civil offices must be
filled by male electors.
There are at present eleven women serving as county superintendents. They
sit on the school boards in many places and have been treasurers. A woman was
nominated for state superintendent of public instruction by the independent
Efforts to secure a law requiring women on the boards of state
institutions have failed. The governor is required to appoint three women
inspectors of penal and charitable institutions, who are paid by the state and
make their report directly to him. They inspect the penitentiary, reform
school, insane hospitals, deaf and dumb institution and school for the blind.
There is one assistant woman physician in the State Hospital for the Insane.
Women in subordinate official positions are found in all state institutions.
They act as clerks in all city, county and state offices and in the legislature,
and have served as court stenographers and clerks of the circuit court. There
are eight women notaries public at the present time.
OCCUPATION.-No profession or occupation is legally forbidden to women.
Ten hours is made a legal working day for them. Four women are editing county
EDUCATION.-All institutions of learning are open alike to both sexes and
there are women in the faculties. In the public schools there are 1,225 men and
3,581 women teachers. The average monthly salary of the men is $36.45; of the
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union was the first organization of women
in the state and through its franchise department has worked earnestly and
collected numerous petitions for suffrage. The Woman's Relief Corps is the
largest body, having one thousand eight hundred members. The Eastern Star,
Daughters of Rebekah, Ladies of the Maccabees and other lodge societies are well
organized. The Federation of Clubs, the youngest association, represents two
hundred members. A number of churches have women on their official boards.