A Yankton native who literally wrote the book on women’s suffrage in the Midwest will be in town next week to talk about her research.
Sara Egge Hoebelheinrich, author of “Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870-1920,” will be the keynote speaker at the General Federation of Women’s Club (GFWC) state convention. The speech is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Hillcrest Country Club in Yankton.
Egge, a 2002 Yankton High School graduate, left to pursue an undergraduate degree at North Dakota State University and later earned a master’s degree in history from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Mark, live in Danville, Kentucky, where Egge is an assistant professor of history at Centre College.
Egge’s book focusses on the history of the women’s suffrage movement in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, but her talk for the GFWC convention will focus on South Dakota’s women’s suffrage history, specifically on the role of the Federated Women’s Clubs.
“I studied the women’s suffrage movement, which is the movement of about 50 years, (in which) women tried to get the right to vote,” she said. “In the Midwest and in South Dakota especially, the main group that really carried the movement at the local levels was the Federated Women’s Clubs, including the women’s club locally in Yankton that is still in town.”
Yankton’s GFWC was founded in the late 19th century as the 19th Century Club, and its leaders were the leaders of Yankton’s women’s suffrage movement. In the early 20th century, the club was renamed the Women’s Club, Egge said.
“I think it’s going to be kind of interesting for (Yankton’s GFWC) to see their own intersection with the history of the federated women’s clubs in lots of different counties in South Dakota, as well as the state (level),” she said. “They were sort of instrumental in getting the word out about suffrage.”
Egge said she plans to focus on how the women’s clubs partnered with other national and state suffrage associations, but she will also explore the role of ladies aid societies or women’s church groups in the suffrage movement, because many women were members of both.
The Press & Dakotan also had a role in the telling of area suffragette history, Egge said.
For example, in 1890, Anna Howard Shaw, the future president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, spoke in Yankton at the Congregational Church’s spring bazaar, she said. In addition to being a suffragist, Shaw was a minister and a temperance advocate.
“The Press & Dakotan reports that they’re cutting pieces of Jack Horner’s pie, and they’re sitting down to eat and up comes Anna Howard Shaw to deliver remarks about why South Dakotans should support this statewide amendment to support women’s suffrage,” Egge said. “But, what I’m really going to focus on in my remarks is the fact that, because this was so radical, these women took a pretty big risk in terms of their reputation.”
Even today, a public stance on a political issue can affect an individual’s standing in the community, she noted.
Egge said she also plans to talk about the contributions of local suffrage leaders in the statewide push, including Julia King, the Danforths and Matilda and Adena Vanderhule.
Though the political battle for women’s suffrage in the United States was fought a century ago, the issue of voting rights is again very much at the center of national politics, she said.
“There are lots of conversations today about the vote, how easy it is to vote and voter suppression,” Egge said. “For me, as a historian, I want people to realize that these debates are not new debates, that the vote is a central piece of our democracy.”
The public is invited to attend Egge’s presentation. A free-will donation is asked, but not required.