Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Katherine W. Powell, 1860-1938

By Emily Dreeszen Wollman, student, & Molly P. Rozum, Associate Professor, University of South Dakota

Katherine Walker Powell, a Congregational minister in the Black Hills, advocated for woman suffrage during the last decade of South Dakota's movement. Powell was born in southern Minnesota on 28 February 1860, but apparently spent some of her early life in England. In 1877, she married Walter Powell, originally a native of England. They had two children, both born in Michigan, Faith Powell Willard (1883) and Keith Powell (1886). Her husband died around 1902. It is not clear when or why she moved to South Dakota, but reportedly in 1905 Powell became the first woman ordained in the Congregational Church in South Dakota. She served as pastor in Custer for fifteen years, supposedly the "the longest" record as pastor "of any church west of the Missouri River" in the state, before moving to a new congregation in Spearfish. Her daughter graduated from the Black Hills Teacher College and became "supervisor of Primary Education" for over four decades. While living in Spearfish, Powell may have taught psychology at the college in addition to her "church work."

Powell emerges in 1910 in the third South Dakota referendum on woman suffrage. For murky reasons having to do with frustrations over divisions within the movement, she resigned from an official role but continued "to work as I may" for the cause. She attended a 1911 meeting in Huron of the newly minted South Dakota Universal Franchise League (SDUFL) and became president of the organization's Southwest district. She held the position through the 1914 referendum campaign. As district president Powell organized branches of the league and helped implement "all campaign procedures emanating from state headquarters." Powell spoke about the "equal franchise" in Lead, Deadwood, Murdo, and Quinn, among other towns. She convinced the Congregational Association to pass a pro-suffrage resolution that pledged support provided women "will accept the added responsibility." She canvassed territory with Northwest district leader Susie Bird, in which the two women sought to reach "every woman who can speak or write or organize" using methods they had learned at the Mississippi Valley Conference on Suffrage held in Des Moines. For South Dakota's 1916 referendum campaign, Powell formed a "Flying Squadron" with fellow Black Hills Congregational minister Nina Pettigrew and national organizers to "tour the Black Hills for suffrage," visiting Rapid City, Hot Springs, Deadwood, Lead, Spearfish, Belle Fourche and Sturgis, distributing literature and holding "street meetings." Powell was on hand after another defeat in 1916 when SDUFL voted to pressure the state legislature to resubmit woman suffrage to the South Dakota electorate for a vote in 1918. The state organization's letterhead listed Powell as a member of its Advisory Committee. She served as the president of the Lawrence County Equal Suffrage League but resigned from the presidency early in 1917 and accepted a new position on an "inter-county council" devoted to suffrage. Early in 1918 she wrote Pyle her "church is very willing to spare me part of the time for suffrage. God is not willing I should resign." However, SDUFL had trouble collecting donations from Lawrence County. As the vote approached, Powell seemed disconnected from the movement, writing she had "no free time at all," but sent her "sincere wishes . . . for the prosperity of the campaign."

Due to illness, said to be brought on by overwork in "war service," in 1919, Powell resigned both her Spearfish pastorate and a teaching position with the Spearfish Normal School. It is unclear how soon she left South Dakota, but by 1926, she lived in Woodburn, Oregon, near Salem, where her son and two grandchildren lived. She worked as a librarian for ten years. She joined the O.E.S. (Order of Eastern Star), where she delivered "an address on the five heroines of the order." She also became a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution; her county's Federation of Women's clubs; the local chapter of the "P.E.O. sisterhood" of which served as president; the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) at which she spoke on "Christian Citizenship"; and the Federated Women of the Methodist Episcopal church for whom she lectured on "economic conditions in relation to Christianity." Although Powell never pastored another congregation, she led devotionals at many of her club meetings and she continued to preach by filling in for vacationing colleagues. Only the week before she died on 2 February 1938, she led devotions for the women of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

No image was found of Katherine W. Powell.


"All Churches Hold Services." Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, 12 Aug 1933, p. 2.

Jane Rooker Breeden Papers. See Correspondence: Powell to Breeden, 27 May 1910.

"Church Women Meet." Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, 14 May 1934, p. 2.

"Conference Honors Woman By Making Her Moderator," Rapid City Journal, South Dakota, 22 May 1924, p. 1.

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

"Equal Suffrage Gains in Black Hills District." Citizen-Republican, Scotland, South Dakota, 30 Apr 1914, Image 6.

"Fruitdale News." Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, South Dakota, 26 Apr 1914, p. 2.

"Honor Paid Well Known Black Hills Woman." Rapid City Journal, South Dakota, 26 Jul 1919, p. 1.

"Katherine Walker Powell." Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, 4 Feb 1938, p. 14.

"Lawrence Co. Suffragists." Lead Daily Call, South Dakota, 22 Mar 1917, p. 5.

"Long-Time Teacher at BHTC Dies Today at Spearfish." Lead Daily Call, South Dakota, 22 Oct 1948, p. 6.

"Mrs. J. Melvin Ringo, P.E.O. President." Capital Journal, Salem Oregon, 12 Mar 1938, p. 4.

Norlin, Dennis A. "The Suffrage Movement and South Dakota Churches: Radicals and the Status Quo, 1890." South Dakota History, 14, no 4 (Winter 1984): 308-334.

Powell, Katherine. Find A Grave Index, database on-line,

"Powell Services Scheduled Today." Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, 3 Feb 1938, p. 5.

Powell, Walter. Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970, database on-line,

Mamie Shields Pyle Papers, Richardson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of South Dakota; See correspondence: Powell to Pyle, 29 Jan 1917, 3, 22 Apr, 5 Aug, 5 Oct 2 Dec 1918; Pyle to Powell, 28 Aug 1918; Rewman to Pyle, 11 Oct 1918, 17 Jan 1919; Stevens to Pyle, 19 Jan 1919.

Reed, Dorinda Riessen. The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota, 2nd ed. Pierre, South Dakota: South Dakota Commission on the Status of Women, 1975 [1958], pp. 58-59, 65, 73, 78.

"Resubmission of Suffrage Issue." Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 16 Dec 1916, p. 7.

South Dakota State Census, 1915, database on-line,

"Star Chapters Will be Guest Woodburn Soon." Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, 24 Apr 1928, p.2.

"Suffrage Convention Holds First Session," Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 1 Jul 1913, p. 1.

"Suffrage Meeting on Wednesday Afternoon." Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, 18 Mar 1917, p. 1.

"Suffrage Squadron Here This Week." Rapid City Journal, South Dakota, 2 Aug 1916, p. 5.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census, 1910, 1930, database on-line,

Untitled. Black Hills Union and Western Stock Review, 18 Mar 1910, Rapid City, South Dakota.

Untitled. Black Hills Weekly Journal, Rapid City, South Dakota, 21 Aug 1914, p. 8.

Untitled, Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, 19 Mar 1938, p. 5.

Untitled, Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times, South Dakota, 24 May 1905, p. 6; 23 Apr 1914, p. 6; 20 Mar 1917, p. 5.

Untitled, Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, 25 Jan 1938, p. 6.

"Woodburn WCTU Meets Last Week." Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, 18 Aug 1937, p. 10.

"Woodburn P.E.O. Chapter Meets." Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon, 1 Oct 1929, p. 6.

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