South Dakota Suffragist — Mary (Mamie) Shields Pyle, 1866-1949

Exercising excellent organizational, political, and people management skills, suffrage leader Mamie Shields Pyle led the successful effort to deliver full suffrage to South Dakota’s female citizens. As president of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL) from 1911 to 1918, Pyle developed and directed campaign strategies that countered a strong and well-funded opposition. After failing to amend the state constitution in five attempts between 1890 and 1916, South Dakota suffragists finally succeeded at the ballot, with 63 percent of the voters approving a suffrage amendment in 1918. Thus, Pyle provided the leadership that made South Dakota one of only sixteen states where women achieved equal voting rights before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.[1]

After the victory, Pyle remained politically and civically involved. She helped transform the state’s suffrage organization into the League of Women Voters and was then elected its first president. She and the new organization lobbied for a special session of the legislature to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which occurred on December 4, 1919. In the first election where women in South Dakota voted for President of the United States, Pyle was elected as a state presidential elector for the Republican party, thus becoming one of the first females to vote in the electoral college (seven women voted for the first time in 1920).[3] Pyle also participated in efforts to pass the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment. During her life, she remained active in Huron college, the YWCA, the Red Cross, and other civic organizations. Pyle died at the age of 83 on December 22, 1949. The home that her husband built in 1894, never updated or remodeled, opened as the Pyle House museum in 1987.[4]

Pyle’s successful leadership gave women in her state the right to vote as equal citizens. It also opened new opportunities for elective and appointive offices for those women, an opportunity at which her daughter Gladys excelled by achieving many firsts in such offices, including first female legislator in South Dakota and first Republican female elected to the United State Senate.

[1] Patricia O’Keefe Easton, “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota: The Final Decade, 1911-1920,” South Dakota History 13, no. 3 (1983): 206–26, https://www.sdhspress.com/journal/south-dakota-history-13-3/woman-suffrage-in-south-dakota-the-final-decade-1911-1920; Sally Roesch Wagner, ed., Fighting for the Vote in South Dakota (Aberdeen, SD: Sky Carrier Press, 1995); Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, Revised Edition (New York: Basic Books, 2009).

[2] “Prairie Radicals: South Dakota Was among First States to Foment Women’s Suffrage,” Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader, April 7, 1982, https://www.newspapers.com/image/242875856/?terms=Mamie%2BPyle.

[3] “Mamie Pyle Takes Lead in Vote Fight,” Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader, April 30, 1989, https://www.newspapers.com/image/240222449/?terms=Mamie%2BPyle; “Sample Ballot, Roberts County, South Dakota,” Sisseton (SD) Weekly Standard, October 22, 1920, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99062049/1920-10-22/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=1918&sort=date&rows=20&words=PYL.E&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=12&state=South+Dakota&date2=1922&proxtext=pyle&y=20&x=17&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=2.

[4] “House-Museum Marks 100th Anniversary,” Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader, July 31, 1994, https://www.newspapers.com/image/240072438/?terms=Mamie%2BPyle.

About Ruth Page Jones

I am an independent Historian, writing and speaking on topics about community, the Midwest, and Woman Suffrage. I created this account as a Graduate Student UW Milwaukee. I graduated in December of 2015.
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