Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Ella Noyes Farr, 1853-1938

By Samantha Albers, student and Molly P. Rozum, Associate Professor, USD

Dr. Mary Noyes Farr was a distinguished professional woman active in South Dakota's woman suffrage movement. Farr was born in New Hampshire in June 1853 to Rufus H. and Patience Gordon Noyes. She graduated in 1874 from Miss Philena McKeen's School in Andover, Massachusetts, where she studied art. She also studied art in Chicago and Boston. Noyes worked as an educator in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington D.C. before marrying Colonel Edward Payson Farr, a Civil War veteran, in October 1882, in Landaff, New Hampshire. The couple, along with Mary's brother, Frank Noyes, moved to Harrold, Dakota Territory, in 1883. Together, they "accumulated many fertile acres" for farming. Her husband opened a general store and she, a millinery business. When he took a job as a "bank cashier" for the National Bank of Commerce in 1890, they moved to Pierre. She worked in Pierre's school system and had an art studio.

In 1901 Mary Farr graduated as a physician from a Boston Osteopath school and became one of the first women doctors in Pierre. Farr helped form a state Osteopath Association and in 1907 lobbied the state legislature for laws to regulate the occupation. South Dakota's governors repeatedly appointed Farr to the "state board of osteopathic examiners," where at different times she held the offices of secretary and treasurer and served until after 1917.

Farr gained many leadership experiences working with women's and civic organizations. In the 1890s she led the National Floral Emblem Society of South Dakota and she took charge of the state's "educational exhibit" at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair; she also served as a "juror of awards" for the fair's Liberal Arts Department. The masonic women's association of the Order of the Eastern Star named her Grand Worthy Matron in 1905 and she held the title of Grand Receiver for the Degree of Honor, a female auxiliary group to the Ancient Order of United Workmen. For the Women's Relief Corps (W.R.C.), Farr served as president of the state's "Department" and as national senior vice-president. She toured local W.R.C. branches and fundraised to support the state's Soldier's Home, Reform School, Children's Home, and Home Library. She solicited among the state's editors for donations of weekly and daily newspaper subscriptions and also worked to promote patriotism in schools and churches. She was a member of Pierre's "Woman's Club" and served in 1910 as a South Dakota delegate to the National Conservation Congress held in St. Paul, Minnesota. A local notable, Farr presented diplomas to some 30 graduates of the Pierre Indian School in June 1915. She held a life membership in South Dakota's Historical Society.

Farr's professional, civic, and government lobbying activities prepared her to advocate well for woman suffrage. In 1915, representing the W.C.T.U., Farr served on the legislative committee of South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL). The women took only two weeks to convince the legislature to submit a woman suffrage measure to the states' voters, but the 1916 referendum lost.

When her husband became "commandant" of the State Soldiers Home in 1917, the Farrs moved to Hot Springs. Her husband died in 1923 and she returned to Pierre. In 1924, at age 68, Farr became the first female candidate to serve as Sergeant at Arms for the South Dakota Senate; newspapers predicted success, suggesting she would be the "only woman sergeant at arms of a legislative body in the United States." Mary Noyes Farr, a Congregationalist, died on 1 January 1938 and was laid to rest at the Riverside Cemetery in Pierre, South Dakota.


Image of Mary Ella Noyes Farr found in New Hampshire Women. Concord: New Hampshire Publishing, Co., 1895, p. 47.


"Aged Woman May Keep Order in S.D. Senate." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 20 Dec 1924, p. 2.

Almlie, Liz. "History in South Dakota,"

"J.D. Lavin Won Out." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 22 May 1907, p. 1.

"Dr. Farr Re-appointed Secretary." Osteopathic Physician, vol. 15, no. 4 (Apr 1909), p. 13.

"Eastern Star Entertain Grand Worthy Matron." The Weekly Pioneer-Times, Deadwood, South Dakota, 19 Oct 1905.

Easton, Patricia O'Keefe. "Woman Suffrage in South Dakota: The Final Decade, 1911-1920." South Dakota History 13, no. 3 (1983), pp. 206-226, p. 208.

"Farr House." National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Find a Grave, database and images,, see Mary Ella Noyes Farr.

Goodspeed, Weston Arthur. The Province and the States: A History of the Province of Louisiana Under France and Spain, and the Territories and States of the United States Formed Therefore, vo. 7 (South Dakota). Madison, Wisconsin: Western Historical Association, 1904, pp. 239-240.

"Graduates of the B.I.O." Boston Osteopath, vol 1, no. 9 (Sep 1901), p. 186.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1922, p. 590.

"Inspected Eastern Stars." Mitchell Capital, South Dakota, 17 Nov 1905, p. 10.

"It is S.D. and Not N.D. That Got a New Board." Osteopathic Physician, vol. 11, no. 3 (Mar 1907), p. 3.

Journal of the Twenty-First National Convention of The Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, San Francisco, Cal., August 20, 21, 22, 1903. Boston: Griffith-Stillings Press, 1903, p. 33.

Journal of the Twenty-Second National Convention of The Woman's Relief Corps, 1904. Boston: Griffith-Stillings Press, 1904, pp. 216, 284.

Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, vol. 16 (New York, NY: The American Osteopathic Association, 1916), pp. 624, 832, 1008, 1286.

"List of Appointments." Turner County Herald, Hurley, South Dakota, 18 Mar 1909, Image 6.

Metcalf, Henry Harrison, ed. New Hampshire Women. Concord: New Hampshire Publishing, Co., 1895, p. 47.

"Mary Noyes Farr Funeral Tuesday." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 3 Jan 1938, p. 3.

"Membership." South Dakota Historical Collections, vol. 3. South Dakota: News Printing Company, 1906, p. 6.

"Mrs. Mary Ella Farr." Worlds Columbian Exposition Illustrated, vol 3, no. 10 (Dec 1893), p. 284.

"Prominent Dakota Lodge Woman Dies." Sioux City Journal, Iowa, 4 Jan 1938, p. 3.

Reed, Dorinda Riessen. The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota. Pierre: Commission on the Status of Women, 1975 [1958], pp. 92-95.

"South Dakota Has Fine Meeting." Osteopathic Physician, vol. 12, no. 4 (Oct 1907), p. 13.

"South Dakota Law Violators to be Prosecuted." Osteopathic Physician, vol. 14, no. 5 (Nov. 1908), p. 13.

South Dakota State Census, 1915, database on-line,, see Mary Ella Noyes Farr.

"They Have the Town." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 25 May 1897 p. 5.

U.S. Federal Census, 1900, 1910, 1930, database on-line,, see Mary Ella Noyes Farr.

Untitled. Black Hills Weekly Journal, Rapid City, South Dakota, 27 Jun 1902, p. 2.

Untitled. Dakota Farmers' Leader, Canton, South Dakota, 26 Aug 1910, p. 2.

Untitled. Forest City Press, South Dakota, 16 Jun 1915, Image 1.

Untitled. Herald-Advance, Millbank, South Dakota, 5 Jan 1917, Image 2.

Untitled. Lemmon Herald, South Dakota, 5 Apr 1912, Image 3.

Untitled. Mitchell Capital, South Dakota, 26 Apr 1907, Image 7.

Untitled. Pierre Weekly Free Press, South Dakota, 25 Aug 1904, p. 5; 14 Jun 1906, p. 5; 9 Apr 1914, p. 5.

Untitled. Turner County Herald, Hurley, South Dakota, 18 Apr 1907, Image 2.

"W.R.C. Held Big Meeting Yesterday." Rapid City Journal, South Dakota, 7 Apr 1917, p. 5.

"Women's Relief Corps." National Tribune, Washington, D.C., 25 Aug 1904.

"Women's Relief Corps Concludes 41st Annual Meet at Brookings." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 14 Jun 1924, p. 12.

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