Agency RSS

Taking inspiration from the women who secured our right to vote

Taking inspiration from the women who secured our right to vote

By Governor Kristi Noem 
December 4, 2020

Today, December 4th, marks the 101st anniversary of the day South Dakota ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which recognized that women have the right to vote. Though the date may not serve as a formal holiday, this particular Governor thinks it’s worth remembering in a special way. South Dakota would be a very different state, and the country a very different place, without it.

A subtle point but one worth making: the Nineteenth Amendment didn’t give the right to vote to women. Rather, the Amendment recognized a right that pre-existed the amendment, which the country had failed to recognize until that time.

It was the hard work of suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton nationally, and Mary Shields “Mamie” Pyle and Emma Smith Doe locally, that forced the men of the country to recognize the right. And it was indeed hard work, accomplished over decades, sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back. That is just as true here in South Dakota as it was across the country.

Pre-statehood, the Dakota Territory recognized the right of women to vote in school elections beginning in 1883. Two years later, legislation that would have recognized the right of women to vote was passed by the legislature but vetoed by the territorial governor, Gilbert Pierce.

When South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889, it failed to recognize that women possessed the right to vote. When suffragettes subsequently campaigned for the right to vote in South Dakota, they often combined the state’s new motto—Under God the People Rule—with the commonsense admonition that “women are people.” The implication seems straightforward enough in hindsight, but it took six votes of the men—in 1890, 1898, 1910, 1914, 1916, and finally 1918—for the state to properly recognize this right.

Nearing the end of her life, Susan B. Anthony reflected on all she had accomplished but also all that was left to do. It was 1902 and her life’s work was still nearly two decades away from coming to fruition, a success she would not live to see. But her comments should speak to us today. She said, “If I could live another century . . . there is so much yet to be done . . . but I must leave it for the younger generation... The young blood, fresh with enthusiasm and with all the enlightenment of the twentieth century, must carry on the work.”

It is now up to our younger generation, all of us, to carry on their work here in the 21st Century and further improve our exceptional country, our shining city on a hill, to borrow John Winthrop’s phrase. But today, let us pause from that work and remember the women leaders of the past, whose work to secure the right to vote has led directly to the opportunities women leaders have in the present—and will have in the future.