Biographical Sketch of May Ghrist

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of May Ghrist, 1867-1925

By Kelly Kirk, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD

Born in Michigan in 1867, May Putnam married Samuel V. Ghrist in 1884. They would make their home in Ontario, then Miller, South Dakota, and raised two children. As their family grew, Samuel pursued his professional career, and May became extremely involved in civic organizations and the suffrage movement.

For the Ghrist family, politics was truly a family affair. In 1912, Samuel, a lawyer, had become the mayor of Miller. As May became more involved in the suffrage movement, her daughter, Elizabeth, sang at a procession in Huron in 1914 in honor of Miss Lola La Follette, who was in town speaking in support of suffrage. In 1915, May was elected the Vice President of the South Dakota Universal Franchise League.

As Vice President, May spoke at the 1915 annual meeting of the Universal Franchise League. She continued speaking on the road, giving a successful speech at the Civil and Child Welfare Club of Madison, SD in April of 1916. After her presentation, a large group of women interested in suffrage met with May, and under her direction, they formed a universal franchise league for Lake County. During this meeting, they wrote a constitution and elected their first officers. Later that fall, May attended the Federated Women's Clubs state convention in Pierre and ran for president of that organization. In early 1917, May was back in Pierre with Mrs. John Pyle, conducting suffrage work in the capital city. As the final push for suffrage neared, May continued her travels. When the state universal franchise league decided to sponsor suffrage schools in Deadwood, Aberdeen, Pierre, Huron, and Sioux Falls, they not only recruited instructors from elsewhere, but also relied on local experts. Thus, May served as an instructor for these schools, along with Mrs. Albert McMahon, field director of the National Suffrage Association and SD Chairman of Organization, and Mrs. Frank Shuler of New York, who led suffrage schools in various states. May spoke elsewhere in the state throughout the summer of 1918, including at a Chautauqua event in Milbank. In referring to her speech, the Milbank newspaper referred to May as a member of the “flying squadron” of suffrage speakers that canvassed the state in the lead up to the 1918 election.

May's organizational participation did not end after suffrage passed in the state. She joined other key suffragists, such as Mrs. John Pyle, Mrs. Paul Rewman, and Ruth Hipple, in staying involved in various women's clubs and organizations. With the abovementioned women, she served on a board representing several of the state's key political organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. This board of representatives met in Pierre in January of 1923 to discuss legislative initiatives that all women's organizations would support. It was decided one of their main focuses would be to put women on juries. May focused her attentions on the League of Women Voters, eventually being elected to serve on the statewide resolutions committee in May of 1923. At the end of that year, the League of Women Voters presented their four main platform planks to the two statewide parties to see if they would adopt these planks as part of their larger legislative platforms. While Mrs. John Pyle presented before the republicans, May presented before the democratic convention.

After May's death in California in July of 1925, the South Dakota Club Women, the official organ of the women's organizations in the state, published an official tribute, stating that as a prominent club woman, “she was a woman of extraordinary ability. She possessed a personal charm and dignity that compelled admiration. She was one of the well-known women of our state, having been active in both club work and along political lines. For years she was vice president of the South Dakota Suffrage league and spent much time, effort, and money in the cause for equal suffrage in our state. Being an apt and fluent speaker her influence for suffrage for the women was strongly felt.”

Sources:

“Big Procession in Huron.” The Sisseton Weekly Standard, (Sisseton, S.D.), July 17, 1914, pg. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“Club Hears Address,” The Madison Daily Leader, (Madison, S.D.), April 5, 1916, pg. 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“Equal Franchise Schools.” The Herald-Advance, (Milbank, S.D.), May 31, 1918, pg. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“May Putnam Ghrist.” Find A Grave. Last edited March 22, 2014. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/126746962.

“Mrs. John L Pyle again Suffraget President, (sic).” The Citizen-Republican, (Scotland, Bon Homme County, S.D.), Nov. 25, 1915, pg. 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“League of Women Voters in State Convention.” The Deadwood Telegram, (Deadwood, S.D.), May 12, 1923, pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com.

“Local Laconics.” Pierre Weekly Free Press, (Pierre, S.D.), May 12, 1910, pg. 5. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“Local News.” Pierre Weekly Free Press, (Pierre, S.D.), April 26, 1917, pg. 5. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“L.W.V. Triumphs with 2 Parties.” Argus-Leader, (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Dec. 6, 1923, pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com.

“State Interest to Center at Pierre on October 3.” The Citizen-Republican, (Scotland, Bon Homme County, S.D.), Sept. 28, 1916, pg. 6. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“State News.” The Madison Daily Leader, (Madison, S.D.), Dec. 4, 1912, pg. 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“Suffrage Speakers.” The Herald-Advance, (Milbank, S.D.), July 5, 1918, pg. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

“Suffs not Spending Funds on Outside Speakers.” The Citizen-Republican, (Scotland, Bon Homme County, S.D.), Nov. 25, 1915, pg. 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

U.S. Census. Year: 1910; Census Place: Ontario, Hand, South Dakota; Roll: T624_1481; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0208; FHL microfilm: 1375494. Found at https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.

U.S. Census. Year: 1920; Census Place: Miller, Hand, South Dakota; Roll: T625_1718; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 181. Found at: https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.

“Women are at Work.” The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, (Deadwood, S.D.), January 6, 1923, pg. 5. https://www.newspapers.com.

“Women's Club Magazine Praises Mrs. May Ghrist.” Argus-Leader, (Sioux Falls, SD), Sept. 9, 1925, pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com.

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