|United States Senator|
from South Dakota
November 9, 1938 – January 3, 1939
|Preceded by||Herbert Hitchcock|
|Succeeded by||Chandler Gurney|
|Executive Officer of the South Dakota Securities Commission|
January 16, 1931 – January 15, 1933
|Preceded by||A. L. Putnam|
|Succeeded by||William J. Dawson|
|Secretary of State of South Dakota|
January 4, 1927 – January 6, 1931
|Preceded by||Clarence Coyne|
|Succeeded by||Elizabeth Coyne|
|Born||October 4, 1890|
Huron, South Dakota, U.S.
|Died||March 14, 1989 (aged 98)|
Huron, South Dakota, U.S.
|Education||Huron University (BA)|
Gladys Shields Pyle (October 4, 1890 – March 14, 1989) was an American politician and the first woman elected to the United States Senate without having previously been appointed to her position; she was also the first female senator to serve as a Republican and the first female senator from South Dakota. She was also the first unmarried female senator.
Gladys Shields Pyle was born in Huron, South Dakota on October 4, 1890, the daughter of John L. Pyle and Mamie Shields Pyle, and was the youngest of their four children, three girls and one boy. Her father was a lawyer who served as Attorney General of South Dakota and her mother was a leading suffragist in the state. The family lived in a home John built, remaining there after his death from typhoid fever in 1902.
John and Mamie were instrumental in the establishment of Huron College, which Gladys attended. While a student, Gladys competed in debates alongside her sisters. She graduated in 1911, and moved to Chicago to attend the American Conservatory of Music and the University of Chicago.
Pyle worked in education from 1912 to 1920, After teaching Latin and civics for two years in Huron, she became principal of Wessington's public schools. Gladys, her mother Mamie, and two sisters were very involved in the Women's Suffrage movement and frequently hosted meetings of the local League of Women Voters chapter in their house. Pyle became a lecturer for the league and traveled to Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Ohio to give speeches and make presentations.
In 1922, she rain for a seat in the South Dakota House of Representatives. After failing to gain the endorsement of local Republicans, Pyle ran in the primary. She appeared to finish fourth in the contest for three nominations, but successfully contested the result. In the general election, she was the leading vote getter in the House race, and all three Republicans were elected. In 1923 she became first woman member of the state House of Representatives. She was reelected in 1924, and served from 1923 to 1927. In addition to her part-time legislative position, Pyle was also appointed to serve as Deputy Secretary of State of South Dakota.
In 1926, Pyle was the successful Republican nominee for Secretary of State of South Dakota. She was reelected in 1928, and served from 1927 to 1931. In 1930, she was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. She garnered nearly a third of the vote in the primary, but lost the nomination after the contest moved to the Republican convention because no candidate had received the 35% required under South Dakota law. She was executive officer for the State Securities Commission from 1931 to 1933.
While pursuing her political career, Pyle also became active in the life insurance business, and worked as an agent for several companies, including New York Life Insurance Company and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. In addition, she was elected president of the Huron Life Underwriters Association, and was active in the National Association of Life Underwriters.
On November 8, 1938 she was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Peter Norbeck. Norbeck died in December 1936, which allowed the governor of South Dakota to appoint a replacement, and he appointed Democrat Herbert E. Hitchcock. Hitchcock lost the primary for the Democratic nomination for a full term, and the general election was won by Republican Chan Gurney. Because he lost the Democratic nomination, a quirk in South Dakota law required Hitchcock to step down following the November 1938 election, which would have created a vacancy before Gurney's term began in January 1939. To fill the two month vacancy, South Dakota pushed for a special election because of rumors that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call a special session of Congress to be held before January. State law also prevented Gurney from appearing on the ballot twice, so he was unable to run in the special election.
As a result of these circumstances and the quirks in the law, the Republican Party selected Pyle to run in the special election, in part to express their appreciation for her service to the party, and in part because she had enough name recognition that they would not have to devote many resources to the special election campaign. She campaigned against the New Deal, arguing the program had not gone far enough to help the people of South Dakota. On the same day that Gurney won election to a full term, Pyle easily defeated Democrat J. T. McCullen Sr. for the short one. Pyle was one of two Senators elected to a short term, with Oregon electing Alexander G. Barry. Pyle and Berry were both paid for their Senate service and allowed to hire staff, even though Congress was not in session.
After the election, Pyle traveled to Washington, D.C. at her own expense, accompanied by her mother and one aide. No special session was called, so Pyle did not have the opportunity to perform any Senate duties before her term ended. She shared a Senate office with Thomas M. Storke, an appointed interim senator from California, and spent her time in Washington lobbying federal agencies including the Works Progress Administration and Bureau of Indian Affairs for approval of projects in South Dakota.
In January 1939, Pyle returned to her insurance business, and remained closely involved in public service work. In 1940, she became the first woman to deliver a presidential nominating speech at a national convention, speaking on behalf of candidate Harland J. Bushfield.
In addition to resuming her career in the life insurance business, Pyle she was the guardian for two orphaned boys and managed her family's 640-acre farm near Huron. She was a member of the South Dakota Board of Charities and Corrections from 1943 to 1957.
Death and burial
The Pyle House, the family home that Gladys Pyle lived in from 1894 until 1985 is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been converted into a museum. Pyle recorded her own recollections of the home before her death, in preparation its conversion. It is largely unchanged from when it was built and has many of the original furnishings and interior decorations.
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- Gamradt, Crystal J. (July 25, 1999). "Biographical Note: Gladys Pyle". Incredible Gladys Pyle Collection. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University.
- Gevik, Brian. "Personalities: Gladys Pyle - A Woman of "Firsts" in Politics and Government". listen.sdpb.org. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
- "4 Women in Next State Legislature". The Argus Leader. Sioux Falls, SD. November 10, 1924. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.
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- Howard, R. P. (January 8, 1931). "Two More Posts Will Be Filled Friday By Green". The Argus Leader. Sioux Falls, SD. Associated Press. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Warren Green is G.O.P. Nominee; Gladys Pyle Loses Out On 12th ballot". The Daily Call. Lead, SD. Associated Press. May 21, 1930. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
- U.S. Senate (1939). Official Congressional Directory. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 109.
- "Newspaper advertisement: National Life Insurance Week". The Daily Plainsman. Huron, SD. February 16, 1964. p. 8 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Underwriters Send Congratulatory Note to Senator Pyle". The Daily Plainsman. Huron, SD. December 5, 1938. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
- "The Key West citizen. (Key West, Fla.) 1879-current, November 22, 1938, Image 3". The Key West Citizen. November 22, 1938. p. 3. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
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- "Dakota Images: Gladys Pyle". South Dakota History. Vol. 19-20. Pierre, SD: South Dakota State Historical Society Press. 1989. p. 276.
- Gevik, Brian (October 17, 2018). "Personalities: Gladys Pyle - A Woman of "Firsts" in Politics and Government". listen.sdpb.org. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
- "Obituary, Gladys Pyle". Argus Leader. Sioux Falls, SD. March 16, 1989. p. 3C – via Newspapers.com.
- Danilov, Victor J. (2005). Women and Museums: A Comprehensive Guide. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-7591-0854-7.
- United States Congress. "Gladys Pyle (id: P000581)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Gladys Pyle at Find a Grave
| Secretary of State of South Dakota
|Party political offices|
| Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
| United States Senator (Class 3) from South Dakota
Served alongside: William Bulow
| Oldest living U.S. Senator