South Dakota is a state where a woman was elected only once to Congress in the first 112 years of statehood and where a woman has never been elected governor.
But a woman has now won the statewide seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in five consecutive elections.
Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin did it twice in 2004, then won in 2006 and 2008.
Republican Kristi Noem won in 2010, defeating Herseth Sandlin, and is on the ballot again this fall for re-election, facing Democratic challenger Matt Varilek.
So here’s the question: Has South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House become a woman’s seat? Or have these past eight-plus years been the exception that proves the rule: that South Dakota doesn’t normally elect women to the state’s highest offices?
The right to vote
South Dakota received statehood in 1889, but 30 years passed before women received the right to vote except in school elections. Attempts to amend the South Dakota Constitution repeatedly failed.
In 1916 the suffrage measure fell a few thousand votes short. Then in 1918 a new version called Amendment E passed with 63 percent support. Women gained the right to vote in all elections the same as men.
Political pioneers: Daly and Pyle
One of the first women to run for major statewide office was Alice Lorraine Daly of Madison. In 1920 she ran for state superintendent of instruction. Alice A. Tollefson was the Democratic candidate. They lost.
In 1922 Daly was one of three candidates for governor in the general election and placed third.
Daly wasn’t the only woman on the general election ballot for a state office in 1922. Gladys Pyle of Beadle County was elected in 1922 to the state House of Representatives and became the first woman to serve in the South Dakota Legislature. She won re-election in 1924.
During this period Pyle also was the deputy secretary of state.
Pyle, a Republican, became the first woman to win statewide office in South Dakota when she was elected in 1926 as secretary of state. She won re-election in 1928.
No man won the office again until Chris Nelson in 2002. During that span, 15 women held the office.
In 1930 Pyle ran for the Republican nomination for governor. She placed first in the primary with 28 percent of the vote but didn’t get the required minimum of 35 percent to secure the nomination.
Instead the nomination was decided at the Republicans’ state convention. There the last-place finisher in the primary, Warren Green, was nominated after many ballots. Green won the general election.
Green appointed her to the office of state securities commission, where she served until after a Democratic governor, Tom Berry, was elected in 1932.
Gladys Pyle, U.S. Senator
The former school teacher supported herself working in the life insurance business in Huron and later engaged in farm management.