Mamie Shields Pyle

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Mamie Shields Pyle
Mamie Shields Pyle in 1919.jpg
Mary Isabella Shields

(1866-02-28)February 28, 1866
DiedDecember 22, 1949(1949-12-22) (aged 83)
ResidenceHuron, South Dakota
Other namesMary Shields Pyle
Mrs. John L. Pyle
Known forSuffrage leader in South Dakota

Mary "Mamie" Shields Pyle (February 28, 1866 – December 22, 1949)[1] was a women's suffrage leader in the U.S. state of South Dakota. She was instrumental in the state's enactment of women's suffrage in 1918 and the state's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment the following year.

Early life[edit]

Mary "Mamie" Isabella Shields was born on February 28, 1866, in Orange, New Jersey.[1][2] During her childhood, her family moved to Pleasant Grove, Minnesota, before settling in Brookings City and Miller, Dakota Territory.[2]

Early career and marriage[edit]

Early in her career, Shields worked as a teacher in Beadle County.[1][3] Shields married attorney and politician John L. Pyle in 1887.[3][4] The couple moved from Miller to Huron, Dakota Territory two years later. They had four children: John Shields (1887-1948), May (1888-1974), Nellie (1889-1961), and Gladys (1890-1989). [4] John L Pyle and Mamie worked to bring Pierre University to Huron, where it was renamed Huron College.[5] Her husband died in 1902 during his term as Attorney General of South Dakota.[4]

Suffrage leader[edit]

Pyle rose to prominence in the suffrage movement after the defeat of the South Dakota women's suffrage amendment in a referendum in November 1910.[3]:208 Unlike other suffrage leaders in the state, Pyle had not been active in the temperance movement, and stressed that suffrage and temperance should remain separate issues.[3]:208[note 1] Seeing the need for a new direction, Pyle called a state suffrage convention in 1911 rebranded the suffrage association as the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (Universal Franchise League).[3]:208 Under Pyle's leadership, the Franchise League kept its independence from national organizations, although Pyle shared many similarities, and a friendship with National American Woman Suffrage Association president Carrie Chapman Catt.[3]:209-10

A 1914 referendum on women's suffrage lost by approximately 12,000 votes, an improvement from the referendum in 1910 that had lost by 22,000 votes. With the progress made, Pyle and the Universal Franchise League lobbied the legislature to pass another women's suffrage amendment, which would once again be put to a public vote. The measure easily passed the legislature, with support from the Republican and Democratic parties in the state.[3]:215 The Universal Franchise League elected her to a third term in November 1915.[9] For the public vote, scheduled for November 1916, Pyle changed strategies from using district organizers to mobilizing county leaders to contact every voter in the state.[3]:216 Pyle and the suffragists still lost the 1916 vote, cutting the margin of their loss to 5,000 votes.[3]:218

In January 1917, Pyle and other suffragettes polled the South Dakota legislature to determine the support for a suffrage amendment. The proponents gauged sufficient support and introduced the measure in both houses of the state legislature.[10] The South Dakota legislature passed a woman's suffrage bill for the seventh and final time in 1917. By March 1918, the United States had entered World War I and Governor Peter Norbeck was concerned that South Dakota allowed non-citizens to vote, which included a population with more than 22% of people claiming German heritage.[3]:223 Norbeck called a special session of the legislature and requested Pyle to be present to consult on an amendment to the woman's suffrage clause to exclude non-citizens from voting.[3]:223-24 The amendment became known as the Citizenship Amendment. Pyle and the Universal Franchise League gave their full support to the amendment and continued to campaign aggressively. The National American Woman Suffrage Association sent additional campaigners to the state. Under Pyle's leadership, the suffragists gathered petitions in every county then sent copies of those petitions and pamphlets to every voter in the state. The Citizenship Amendment, enfranchising women passed on November 6, 1918 with 64% of the vote.[3]:224

In November 1917, she was a delegate for South Dakota to the National Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C.[11] South Dakota passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, giving franchise to women across the country, on December 4, 1919.[3]:225 Pyle remained president of the Universal Franchise League until 1920.[1] Pyle then became the President of the South Dakota League of Women Voters.[12]

Later life and death[edit]

Pyle was chosen as an elector in the 1920 presidential election,[13] the first American woman to be named an elector.[14] She was also given the honor of bringing the electors' votes to Washington in January 1921.[13] Pyle was also a leader in efforts to pass the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment.[15] Pyle was a trustee of Huron College from 1902 until 1949 and was president of the college's Women's Association.[1] Her youngest daughter, Gladys, became the first woman elected to the United States Senate without first having been appointed.[15][16] In 1947, she was named state mother of South Dakota.[1]

Pyle died on December 22, 1949.[1] The Pyle family home in Huron has been turned into a museum.[17]


  1. ^ There was a significant overlap between the suffrage and "temperance" movements. Much of the opposition to womens' suffrage came from brewers and distillers, who feared that if women got the vote, they would use it to enact prohibition.[6] Opposition to the two was particularly strong among German Americans.[7][8] See Opposition to women's suffrage.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Dakota Images" (PDF). 1977. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Mamie Shields Pyle". Iowa State University: Plaza of Heroines. March 2, 1995. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m O'Keefe Easton, Patricia (1983). "Woman Suffrage in South Dakota: The Final Decade, 1911–1920" (PDF). Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Pyle Dies After a Long Struggle". The Black Hills Union. February 28, 1902. ISSN 2475-1758. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  5. ^ Higbee, Paul. "The Comeback City". South Dakota Magazine. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Scott and Scott (1982), p. 25
  7. ^ Richardson, Belinda (2007). Christian Clergy Response to Intimate Partner Violence: Attitudes, Training, Or Religious Views?. ProQuest. p. 55. ISBN 9780549564379.
  8. ^ Michael A. Lerner (2009). Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Harvard UP. pp. 31–32. ISBN 9780674040090.
  9. ^ "Mrs. John L. Pyle Again Suffreget President". The Madison Daily Leader. November 22, 1915. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "Want State to Enter Business". Saturday News. January 18, 1917. ISSN 2475-4390. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Local News". Pierre Weekly Free Press. November 29, 1917. ISSN 2475-2924. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  12. ^ "Mrs. Pyle is to Head Women". The Madison daily leader. April 8, 1922. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Woman Carries Returns of the Election Vote". The Citizen-Republican. January 27, 1921. ISSN 2475-3351. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  14. ^ "South Dakota Women in National Politics". The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. January 19, 1920. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Weatherford, Doris (January 20, 2012). Women in American Politics: History and Milestones. SAGE. pp. 75–76. ISBN 9781608710072.CS1 maint: Date and year (link)
  16. ^ "PYLE, Gladys: US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Danilov, Victor J. (2005). Women and Museums: A Comprehensive Guide. Rowman Altamira. p. 160. ISBN 9780759108554.CS1 maint: Date and year (link)

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