Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists

Biography of Etta Estey Boyce, 1863-1920

By Molly P. Rozum, Associate Professor, University of South Dakota

South Dakota suffragist Etta Estey was born in Maine in June around 1863 to Louisa Watson Estey and Aaron Hartt Estey, a Baptist minister and naturalized U.S. Citizen, originally from New Brunswick, Canada. It is not clear why Estey moved to South Dakota, but she came as an adult and lived in Sioux Falls by 1890; her parents and siblings remained in the East in Maine, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Estey married Sioux Falls lawyer Jesse Wadleigh Boyce on 12 March 1893 in Oregon, Wisconsin, his hometown. A singer, Estey Boyce was said to have trained as a tenor under Jean de Reszke or at least in a Paris school named for him under "teachers of wide reputation." She became "a leader in the musical circles of Sioux Falls," for example, performing F. Schiras' classical "Sognai" and selections from Verdi's "Rigoletto." She also appeared on a program sponsored by the Minnehaha Mandskor, a Norwegian chorus, and managed a production of Hayden's "The Creation" for the Sioux Falls Oratorio Society. Boyce gave private lessons in voice and harmony in a home studio and taught "classes in Sight Reading, Ear Training and How to Understand Music."

Etta Boyce's activity with the South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL) reached a pitch in the state's 1916 woman suffrage campaign. She helped organize the Minnehaha County Franchise League in Sioux Falls and served on SDUFL's 1915 legislative committee, along with the organization's president Mamie Pyle. The state legislature passed the woman suffrage ballot measure in only two weeks and suffragists held a "gala" ball in the prominent St. Charles Hotel in Pierre to celebrate. Described as "very attractive, intelligent, and a personable entertainer," Boyce sang at the reception. She also attracted attention by wearing large hats. Boyce's husband died suddenly during the middle of the campaign. Woman suffrage failed state-wide for the fifth time at the polls, but Minnehaha County narrowly approved the measure with 50.2% support.

For SDUFL's successful 1918 campaign, Boyce agreed to raise half of Minnehaha County's dues to the state organization. While visiting her sister in Washington, D.C., she kept Pyle informed on Senate progress on the Nineteenth Amendment. Pyle counted on Boyce to send favorable local editorials to the "Suffrage House" and South Dakota's U.S. Senators. In April, however, Boyce wrote Pyle of "illness" and the impossibility of doing "much work" on the campaign. Nevertheless, the county approved woman suffrage in 1918 with 62.4% support. After South Dakota became the 21st state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on 4 December 1919, Boyce wrote Pyle with congratulations, lauding the latter's ability to "get all those men to go to Pierre at their own expense?!" Boyce claimed to help pay for one of the legislators "to get him started" to Pierre. About four months later, on 6 April 1920, Etta Estey Boyce died suddenly in Sioux Falls. Boyce's music students sang at her funeral.


Image of Etta Estey Boyce, standing on South Dakota's capitol steps, probably in 1915, from the Gladys Pyle Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, University of South Dakota, Vermillion.


"A Great Success." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 30 May 1896, p. 5.

"A Musical Event." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 6 Dec 1895, p. 5.

Easton, Patricia O'Keefe. "Opposition to Woman Suffrage in South Dakota." (MA thesis, University of South Dakota, 1982), pp. 133-135.

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

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

Kingsbury, George Washington. History of Dakota Territory, vol. 5. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing, 1915, pp. 559-560.

Klein, Herman. "Jean De Reszke and Marie Brema: Some Reminiscences." Musical Times, vol. 6, no. 987 (May 1 1925), pp. 405-408.

"Mrs. Etta Boyce Dies Suddenly." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 2 Apr 1920, p. 15.

"Mrs. Etta Boyce is Laid to Rest." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 7 Apr 1920, p. 9.

"Music Term is to Open Monday." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 19 Sep 1914, p. 10.

"Piano Recital." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 23 Jun 1894, p. 5.

"Pleasant Easter Recital." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, SD, 11 Apr 1899, p. 8.

Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of South Dakota; See correspondence: Flinn to Pyle, 7 Jun 1918; Boyce to Pyle, 9 Feb, 6 Apr, 29 May 1918; 21 Jan. 11 Dec 1919; Pyle to Boyce, 1 Mar, 27 May 1918; 14 Jan 1919.

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

"Soloists of City Enjoy Luncheon." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2 Jun 1917, p. 7.

South Dakota Census, 1915, 1905, database on-line,; see Etta E. Boyce

"Suffrage Campaign," Lead Daily Call, South Dakota, 2 Nov. 1916, p. 1.

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 1916, 1917, database on-line,; see Etta E. Boyce.

U.S. Federal Census, 1910, 1900, 1880, 1870 database on-line,; see Etta E. Boyce, Etas A. Estey, and Jesse Wadleigh Boyce.

Untitled. Saturday News, Watertown, South Dakota, 18 Jan 1917, Image 7.

Wisconsin Marriage Index, 1820-1907, database on-line,; see Jesse Wadleigh Boyce.

"Woman Dies Suddenly." Sioux City Journal, Iowa, 3 Apr 1920, p. 6.

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