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Unit 7


Notable South Dakotans, 1900-1950


Lesson 2
Peter Norbeck and Mary Shields Pyle


     At first, the people who governed the state of South Dakota were from other places. They came to the state as adults. They were homesteaders or town builders. After 1900, people who grew up in the area took over the task of governing. These leaders helped the state find its own identity.




Rosebud Reservation lands open


America enters First World War


South Dakota women get the vote


Custer State Park set up
First film made by an African American


Nineteenth Amendment passes
Radio broadcasting begins


President Coolidge visits Black Hills


Great Depression begins


New Deal programs begin


Second World War begins


Missouri River dam projects begin

Peter Norbeck

     Peter Norbeck was the first governor to be born in Dakota. He was also the first United States senator from South Dakota to be born here. As a young man, he helped to solve water problems. As governor and senator, he built parks and roads. His work left a special heritage for South Dakota.

Peter Norbeck
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     Norbeck was born in a dugout in southeastern Dakota Territory. The year was 1870. Later his family moved west of the Missouri River. They homesteaded in Charles Mix County. Here he learned that low rainfall made farming hard. Wells were needed to water the crops and the livestock. Most wells in South Dakota were artesian wells. They were very deep. It cost a lot of money to drill them. Norbeck found a way to drill wells that cost less money. Soon he was drilling wells all across South Dakota.

     Norbeck set up his business in Redfield in Spink County. Voters elected him to the state senate in 1908. Later the people of South Dakota elected him governor. He tried different ways to solve problems for citizens. He set up state hail insurance for farmers. He started a coal mine and a cement plant. He helped to set up Custer State Park. Today, his work with parks is what we remember most.

Needles Highway
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     In 1920, Norbeck won a seat in the United States Senate. From there, he worked to get scenic roads built in the Black Hills. Soon Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road were built. Norbeck also found money for other parks and memorials. Norbeck died in 1936.

Mary Shields Pyle

     From 1904 to 1915, many single women took claims in South Dakota. Married women still worked mostly in the home. Neither could vote, but many women wanted to vote. Then the First World War sent South Dakota men to the battlefield. Women took more roles outside the home. They soon wanted more rights.

Mary Shields Pyle
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Mary ("Mamie") Shields was born in 1866. She moved to Dakota Territory as a young girl. She worked as a schoolteacher in Brookings and Hand counties. She married John L. Pyle and later moved to Huron. After her husband died in 1902, Mary Pyle had little money. She also had four children she had to feed. She took over her husbandís work. She ran his business. She was active in civic affairs. She served on the Board of Trustees for Huron College. She was active in the local Red Cross.

     Votes for women seemed only right to someone like Mary Pyle. She worked to change the law that said only men could vote. Pyle was a good public speaker. Soon she was president of the State Woman Suffrage Association. She talked to people all across the state. She wrote about woman suffrage for the newspapers. In 1918, South Dakota women won the right to vote. They could vote in state elections. Two years later, women across the United States gained the vote. This was done through the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Pyle helped make South Dakota one of the first states to ratify the amendment.

Votes for Women
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


     The right to vote was important to Pyle. It made women full citizens. Now they could run for public office. Pyle died in 1949. Her daughter, Gladys Pyle, followed in her motherís footsteps. Gladys Pyle served as a state legislator and United States senator. She used the rights her mother had won.

amendment (n.), a revision or change

civic (adj.), belonging to a city

dugout (n.), a hole dug into a hillside used as a house

governor (n.), the head of a state

ratify (v.), to approve

suffrage (n.), the right to vote