Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Mabel Fontron Rewman Frary, 1875-1969
Suffrage Snapshot: Black Hills Suffragist Mabel Rewman
By Kelly Kirk, Black Hills State University
By the spring of 1918, the normally indefatigable Mabel Rewman, member of The Round Table Club of Deadwood, local Red Cross worker, and Finance Chair for the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL), felt exhausted. Weeks on the road raising funds for the 1918 woman suffrage campaign had resulted in notable successes, including significant donations to the cause. However, her husband's office assistant had left while she had been traveling, leaving the Black Hills Telephone Exchange Company shorthanded. She would have to work at the office and lend a hand. Her frequent absences also led to mutterings by her fellow Red Cross volunteers that she gave more to suffrage than to Red Cross work. She informed Mary “Mamie” Shields Pyle, president of the SDUFL, of her need to stay in the Black Hills for a little while. There was still much work to be done, even in this corner of the state. She would press on.
Mabel Rewman was an indomitable force fighting for woman suffrage in the Black Hills throughout the 1910s.1. Carol Bishop, The Round Table Club 1887-1987: The Other Ladies of Deadwood, 90. [Privately published?] Originally from Kansas, Rewman moved around the country throughout young adulthood and had worked with loans and insurance in Missouri and Illinois, eventually owning her own grocery business in Oklahoma.2. Lily O. W. Coursey, "Who's Who in South Dakota, Mrs. Mabel Rewman," Deadwood Daily-Pioneer Times (Deadwood, SD), November 23, 1920. Newspapers.com, accessed August 9, 2016. She had been in Washington state caring for an ill sister when she herself needed to visit a doctor for an ulcer. Her specialist, a female, encouraged her to get involved with a worthy cause, and since the doctor was a suffragist, she mentioned Rewman could get involved with the Washington State Equal Suffrage Association.3. Dorinda Riessen Reed, The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota, (Brookings: Governmental Research Bureau, State University of South Dakota, 1958), p. 93. Rewman not only joined, but she became an extremely active member of the organization. She also met Emma Smith DeVoe, a suffragist and former South Dakota resident, active during that state's tumultuous 1890 campaign. Rewman then married Paul Rewman and the two moved to Deadwood.4. Information on Paul Rewman: Glenn D. Stratton, "Early Day Telephone in Deadwood," in Some History of Lawrence County by the Lawrence County Historical Society of Deadwood, SD. (Pierre: The State Publishing Company, 1981), p. 611. Move to Deadwood: Reed, The Woman Suffrage Movement, 93.
The move to Deadwood would be momentous, both for Rewman and for the woman suffrage movement in this Black Hills community. Rewman became involved in numerous community organizations and assumed leadership roles within Deadwood and around the state. Members of the Deadwood Equal Suffrage League elected her president in 1917 and the South Dakota Universal Franchise League placed her in charge of finances for the 1918 referendum campaign.5. President: "Suffragists in Annual Meeting Elect Officials," Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times (Deadwood, SD), March 16, 1917. Newspapers.com, accessed August 9, 2016. Finance: Reed, The Woman Suffrage Movement, p. 102. She hosted gatherings and key suffrage speakers, such as Jane Addams, traveled extensively to give speeches, organized suffrage schools, campaigned in front of the state legislature in Pierre, and attended the 1917 National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Washington, D.C.6. Hosting: Public notice from October 15, 1914 edition of the Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times (Deadwood, SD). Newspapers.com, accessed August 8, 2016. Speeches: "Suffrage Convention for Butte County," Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times, (Deadwood, SD), March 21, 1917. Newspapers.com, accessed August 9, 2016. Suffrage school: Reed, The Woman Suffrage Movement, pp. 100, 102. Pierre: "Mrs. Rewman Satisfied with Suffrage Status," Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times, (Deadwood, SD), March 26, 1918. Newspapers.com, accessed August 9, 2016. Washington DC: "She will Represent State at the Capital," The Weekly Pioneer Times Mining Review, (Deadwood, SD), December 6, 1917. Newspapers.com, accessed August 8, 2016.
Throughout the spring of 1918, the correspondence between Rewman and Mamie Pyle, the state president of SDUFL, shows a high level of activity throughout northern Hills communities and helps explain the eventual success of woman suffrage in South Dakota. Rewman mentions lecturing in Lead, Deadwood, Spearfish, and even at “the Normal,” with over 350 pupils present.7. Mrs. Mabel Rewman to Mrs. Mamie Shields Pyle, March 18, 1918, Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Box 1, University of South Dakota. While Rewman never provides a lot of details about her travels, Pyle keeps other suffrage supporters throughout the state apprised of Rewman's unparalleled achievements. For example, Pyle reported Rewman's visit to Miller, where in only three days she raised the county's fundraising quota, and then raised a large portion of Huron's quota within a few days.8. Mrs. Mamie Shields Pyle to Miss Alice Daley, May 13, 1918, Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Box 2, University of South Dakota. A few days later, Pyle wrote to another suffragist explaining how, while in Huron, Rewman managed to raise fifty dollars from one man, the “largest sum that any one man gave in Huron.”9. Mrs. Mamie Shields Pyle to Mrs. Shuler, May 16, 1918, Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Box 2, University of South Dakota. While a victory in and of itself, reportedly, adding a note of humor to the windfall, as it turned out, the man's wife had “allowed her name to be used on the board or committee of the organization opposed to suffrage.”10. Mrs. Mamie Shields Pyle to Mrs. Shuler, May 16, 1918, Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Box 2, University of South Dakota. Due to Rewman's success, other women wrote to Pyle requesting Rewman's presence in their community to fundraise for suffrage.
Despite her extensive travels, Rewman returned to Deadwood in June 1918 to prepare for nationally-sponsored suffrage schools to be held across the state. National leaders, such as Mrs. Frank J. Shuler, the Corresponding Secretary of National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and Chairman of Campaigns and Committees, and Mrs. Albert McMahon, Field Director of the NAWSA, ran the suffrage schools Rewman organized. The two-day “schools” focused on methods of success, organizing strategies, and public relations. Rewman judged Deadwood's suffrage school a “howling success.”11. Mrs. Mabel Rewman to Mrs. Mamie Shields Pyle, June 19, 1918. Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Box 2, University of South Dakota.
Noted for her business acumen and speaking ability, Rewman not only became a leader in woman suffrage in the Black Hills, but both state and national organizations recognized her suffrage work. Her name is liberally peppered throughout Black Hills newspapers, which trace her footsteps, remark on her speeches, and discuss her presence at a multitude of events. A “Who's Who of South Dakota” article praised Rewman for her vocabulary, personality, “personal magnetism . . . complete self-possession” and “grace in gestures.”12. Coursey, "Who's Who in South Dakota," Deadwood Daily-Pioneer Times, November 23, 1920. While these ringing acclamations demonstrate the attributes Rewman brought to the leadership of the suffrage movement, they do not begin to comment on the sheer amount of time and energy she invested into the fight for women's access to the ballot.
Rewman's work did not end with the victory for women's suffrage in South Dakota. She continued to work for multiple organizations, including the Red Cross, the women's auxiliary of the business men's club in Deadwood, and Governor Norbeck appointed her to the Woman's Board of Investigation in 1918, which looked at state institutions.13. Ibid. Governor Norbeck also asked her to serve on the Board of Charities and Corrections in 1920, making her “the first woman to hold a position on one of the constitutional boards of the state.”14. Ibid. Rewman's experiences beyond the 1918 suffrage campaign not only illustrates the networks Rewman had developed as a leader within the state, but also the extent of her influence and success.
For a second biographical sketch of Mabel Fontron Rewman Frary, click here.