Archive for the ‘Women’s History Month’ Category

Her photograph collection “chronicles life in Veblen, South Dakota and includes photographs taken by Vivian Steen as well as others. ” They date from circa 1900 to 1930s.

The photographs range “from scenes of the downtown, scenes of store interiors, storekeepers, harvesters, ranch work, farm animals, road trips in both horse drawn vehicles and motor vehicles, the Missoula Stampede, a flood, the building of a dam, winter farm scenes, games with the Veblen Railmen (city baseball team), young men boarding the train in WWI uniforms, WWI tent camps, logging camps, river boat transporting an early gasoline car, and men at the University of Minnesota to intimate family photographs.”

The Vivian Lucille Steen Anderson photograph collection is in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of South Dakota.

Image from the collection and information from the finding aid.

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She was active and influential in politics and public education in the early 20th century at the local (Vermillion SD) level and the state level. She also wrote for a local newspaper, the Vermillion Plain Talk, and taught school.

1866 – birth.

Circa 1888 – graduation from USD and started teaching at Vermillion.

1901 – authored history section of Peterson’s Illustrated Historical Atlas of Clay County.

1911-1914 – Clay County superintendent of schools.

1924 – authored Makers of History; Today and Yesterday.

1926-1930 – Clay County auditor.

1930s– authored 3 stories in Legends of the Mighty Sioux.

1931 – authored Picture Studies: Complete.

1937 – death.

Her picture and obituary can be found at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15663153/florence-belle-conrow.

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SP- Archives

Dr. Frances Kelsey.

In 1960, while at the Food and Drug Administration,  she refused to approve release of thalidomide in the United States due to inadequate testing.

For a portrait of Dr. Kelsey at the University of South Dakota, see the Digital Library of South Dakota.

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Lulu (Mrs. E.P.) Wanzer may have been the first. She was from Armour, SD and was active in public health and the State Board of Health. A state summer camp for children was name Camp Wanzer in her honor. She was appointed to the BOR in January 1931 and served until her death in August 1931.


Sources (These are in the Archives and Special Collections except for the Argus Leader and Find a Grave):

Argus Leader newspaper, Sioux Falls SD, January 09, 1931, page 1

Coyote, USD yearbook, 1932, page 30 (A photograph of Mrs. Wanzer)

Find a Grave https://www.findagrave.com/ (accessed February 26, 2020)

South Dakota Historical Collections, volume 33, page 405, F646 .S76. (A short biography of Mrs. Wanzer)

USD Catalog, 1931-1932

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Betty Turner Asher was the first woman president of any public higher education system in South Dakota. She served at USD from 1989-1996, resigning after seven years of service. At the time, her tenure was tied with two other presidents for the fourth longest term of any president at USD. Asher was previously the Vice President of Student Affairs for Arizona State University, and held three degrees: a bachelor’s in history, a master’s in counseling, and a doctorate in education.

Asher’s accomplishments while at USD are many, and some are listed here. Under President Asher:

-USD approved and began additions to the I.D. Weeks library

-Renovation was approved for the oldest building on campus, Old Main

-Construction was completed on the Health Sciences Center in Sioux Falls

-Funds were dedicated to expand the Lommen Health Sciences Library

-Enrollment hit a record high of 7,739 in 1989

-A record 1,118 degrees were conferred in May 1995

-USD Law rose to the top half of rankings in accredited institutions by the American Bar Association

-USD ranked in the top 5% of the nation’s colleges and universities, as reported by US News and World Report

-Psychology, Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Administrative Studies, Counseling, Physician’s Assistant are just some of the programs that were added or experienced growth under her leadership

Asher was known to students and faculty for her open door policy, and made leaps and bounds in improving diversity at USD. In an interview with the South Dakotan in July 1996, she states: “But I am happy that our gay and lesbian students are comfortable enough to meet openly as a group…I have received all kinds of letters and notes from the Native American community. I have been deeply touched by their response.” Asher goes on to speak about how the students and faculty make USD a success, and that she appreciated the close relationships she had with USD and its faculty and students. She recalled students coming up to her home and inviting her to join them downtown, and said that USD is where she never woke up in the morning and did not want to go to work.

Asher is the first in a short list of female leadership at South Dakota public universities. Only seven women have served as university presidents in South Dakota since Asher’s term. They are:

Peggy Gordon-Miller, South Dakota State University, 1998-2006

Kay Schallenkamp, Black Hills State University, 2006-2015

Laurie S. Nichols (interim), Northern State University, 2008-2009

Heather Ann Wilson, South Dakota School of Mines, 2013-2017

Maria Ramos (interim), Dakota State University, 2014-2015

Jose-Marie Griffiths, Dakota State University, 2015-Present

Sheila K. Gestring, University of South Dakota, 2018-Present

Betty Turner Asher’s papers are held at the Archives and Special Collections at USD.


Betty Turner Asher, from USD’s Past President’s website, sourced below


South Dakotan, July 1996 Issue

Karl Mundt Library, Dakota State University






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Some of South Dakota first ladies (i.e. governors’ wives) are described in the Tidbits sections of the South Dakota governors residence cookbook: a culinary legacy celebrating the first families of South Dakota, 2007.

Margaret Wylie Mellette “was a china painter and portrait painter and was the hostess at the South Dakota Building at the 1893 Columbia Exhibition in Chicago.”

“Annie Chappelle Lee was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and wore the little hatchet pin of the WCTU on her inaugural gown.”

“Vera Cahalan Bushfield was appointed to the U.S. Senate to complete her husband’s term after his death in 1948.”

“Gertrude Bertelsen Gunderson was a poet of renown and served as co-editor and president of a magazine of poems, Pasque Petals.”

“Lorena McLain Berry had a love for music and published several pieces of music she composed.”

“Emilie Beaver Byrne was a Christian Scientist and wrote a novel with a religious theme, The Song Beneath the Keys and she also wrote poetry sharing her innermost thought.”

“Harriet Russell McMaster was partial to outdoor sports. She was an expert tennis player, liked to boat, and participated in skating and coasting in the winter.”

“Madge Ellen Turner Mickelson was an accomplished athlete at Aberdeen Normal, now Northern State University. She lettered in five sports. She also won the National Javelin Throwing Championship.”

“Lorna Buntrock Herseth is the only First Lady elected to a statewide office. She served as Secretary of State from 1972-1978.”

This is one of the many cookbooks in the Chilson Collection. I wasn’t expecting to find information about South Dakota’s first ladies or the history of the governors’ homes in this book. What a pleasant surprise, recipes and history.


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American mathematician Anna Johnson Pell Wheeler is best known for leading a successful career in mathematics in the early twentieth century, a time when few women worked in the field. She was the first woman to lecture before the American Mathematical Society, and she was influential in shaping the mathematics department at Bryn Mawr College. Her chief area of mathematical research was functional analysis (Hannon 2006).

Anna Johnson attended the University of South Dakota from 1899 to 1904. (Walz 2000), and obtained advance degrees from the University of Iowa in 1904, Radcliffe College in 1905, and the University of Chicago in 1909.

The Anna Johnson Pell Wheeler papers at the Archives and Special Collections consists mainly of family letters between Anna and her family, from 1898 to Anna’s appointment at Bryn Mawr in 1918.


Hannon, Jessica. “Anna Johnson Pell Wheeler: Background.” Science Reference Center Database, EBSCOhost http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=3eeaf634-a369-475a-85cf-edf30cae1f59%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=22315949&db=sch (accessed 2/7/2018).

Walz, Shawna Darlene. “The University of South Dakota’s Own Anna Johnson: A Pioneer for Women in Mathematics.” Honors Thesis, University of South Dakota, 2000.


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Mary Beaty Edelen served in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 1973 to 1980 and from 1983 to 1992, representing Clay and Union Counties and becoming the first woman legislator elected from her district. She was the president of the National Order of Women Legislators in 1986 and on the executive board of the Legislative Research Council from 1975-76 and 1979-80.


The Mary B. Edelen papers at the Archives and Special Collections are 2.5 linear feet and consist mainly of material related to her work in the South Dakota House of Representatives.


Herbert S. Schell. History of Clay County, South Dakota. Vermillion SD: Clay County Historical Society, 1976. Page 260.

South Dakota Legislature, Legislative Research Council, Historical Listings http://www.sdlegislature.gov/Legislators/Historical_Listing/default.aspx?Session=2018  (accessed Dec. 27, 2017).

South Dakota. Legislature, Legislative Research Council. Biographical directory of the South Dakota legislature, 1889-1989. Pierre, SD: The Council, 1989.










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Mabel and Edna Townsley

Edna and Mabel Townsley

Women’s History

The following collections in the Archives and Special Collections are by or about women:

American Association of University Women
Anderberg, Ina
Anderson, Rebecca Collection on Whiteclay, Nebraska
Beede Family
Breeden, Jane Rooker
Broughall, V.V.H. [textiles]
Cooper-Foote, Dorothy (Wright)
Cramer, Petrea Diaries
Dillion, Charles H. and Frances J. Scrapbook
Dimmick, Lauretta
Edelen, Mary B.
Egge, Ruth March
Faculty Woman’s Club
Hammond, Dephane
Jones, Mildred McEwan
Lommen, Grace D. Eldridge
Mills, Ellen S. [In Single Folder Collection]
Moses, Ruth West
National Organization for Women (NOW), Vermillion Chapter
Presidents Series (USD), Asher, Betty Turner, 1989-1996
Pyle, Gladys, 1890-
Pyle, Mamie I (Shields), 1866-1949
Rubida, Ruth
Shoemaker, Gretchen Gall
Smith, Effie Farris [In Single Folder Collection]
South Dakota Advocacy Network for Women
South Dakota State Fair [In Single Folder Collection]
Townsley, Mabel
Visser, Audrae, [In Single Folder Collection]
Wasesa Club, Vermillion, South Dakota
Weeks, I.D. and Virginia
Wheeler, Anna Johnson Pell
Williams, Elizabeth Evenson [In Single Folder Collection]
Women’s Research Conference – USD
Worthen, Bill [In Single Folder Collection]
Yellow Robe, Rosebud [In Single Folder Collection]

Some of the collections by women do not contain material that is gender-related. Other collections are not about women but contain some material about women. Check also our photograph collections, publication collections, organization records, alumni records, family histories, and genealogies.

Image from the Mabel Townsley papers


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