Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mathilde Dallmeyer (Shelden), 1885-1980
By Margot McMillen, co-author of The Golden Lane: How MIssouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History (2011)
The name of Matilde Dallmeyer (1885-1980) of Jefferson City, Missouri (Mrs. Frank Shelden) appears with many spellings, including Mathilda Dallmeyer and Mathilde Dahlmeyer. Her preferred name was Mathilde Dallmeyer. She was the daughter of Louise Schmidt and Rudolph Dallmeyer. Her grandfather, Frank Schmidt, a German, had a prominent part in the development of the city. Some of the largest buildings in downtown, including the Madison Hotel, stores at 206, 208 and 210 East High Street and an office building known as the Dallmeyer Building were built by him. Even today, the Dallmeyer family is honored for their civic involvement and love of the city.
Mathilde Katherine ("Dolly") Dallmeyer was born in Jefferson City and attended Jefferson City High School and then National Park Seminary in Washington, D.C., staying for two years. After her return, she helped organize the Jefferson City Art Club, founded in 1903 and was given inspiration after several young women visited the Art Building at the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair. She served as the Art Club president from 1906 to 1915. She was also elected secretary of the Provident Association, a charitable organization providing relief for the poor. Always an active member in the Presbyterian Church, she served as both treasurer and president of the Women's Guild, and was on the board of trustees.
She was active in the suffrage movement, organizing in 1913 the Jefferson City Equal Suffrage League, and scheduling herself for a round of speeches covering 21 counties. An early advocate in the state, her activism was instrumental in planting the seeds of suffrage in many communities. Occasionally, she and her chaperone were refused accommodations because of the controversy of her message.
Even though her father was a Democrat, "Dolly" found the Republican message more to her liking. In 1919, she became a delegate to the first national conference of Republicans in Washington, D.C. to which women were invited. At the 1919 Republican Convention in Chicago, she and Frank Elwin Shelden of Kansas City, a prominent orthodontist, announced their intention of marriage and she showed off a ring which the Independent, a Kansas City magazine full of gossip and pictures of brides and the children of prominent people, described as "a beauty."
The same writer mentioned seeing Miss Dallmeyer at lunch, and mused about her suffrage work, saying, "I thought of the type of woman, made familiar by caricaturists, we have come to associate with the Suffragette. Miss Dallmeyer is not true to type . . . retains all the childish loveliness and femininity . . . bright, dainty and feminine in appearance as one could desire."
The couple were married July 7, 1920. She was 34 years old and he was 10 years older. They had one son, Russell Dallmeyer Shelden, born in 1921. The family resided near the Paseo, in a prestigious part of Kansas City. Also in the household were two children from Frank Shelden's earlier marriage.
The Sheldens were in touch with the elite of Kansas City. Three years after the birth of Russell, Mathilde was appointed a member of the Upper House of the Kansas City Council, filling a vacancy caused by a death. She also kept up memberships in the Republican Twentieth Century Club, and, as outlets for her gardening and arts passions, held memberships and often served as an officer in the Rose Society, the Browning Society, the Art Institute, the Philharmonic Society, the Lyric Theatre, Kansas City Museum, Athenaeum, Musical Club. She encouraged civic involvement in others with work in the Women's City Club, Girl Scouts, Second Presbyterian Church and YWCA.
Matilda Dallmeyer Shelden is featured in at least two sources about Kansas City. In A Condensed History of the Kansas City Area: Its Mayors and Some V. I. P.s (1968) by George Fuller Green, there is a photo and paragraph. In Kansas City Women of Independent Minds by Jane Fifield Flynn (1992), there is a 2-page sketch that includes a good photo and information about her work for suffrage.