Gladys Pyle, 1890-1989

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Woman Category: Academy & Education and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Senator

  • HerStory

    The first Republican female senator, the first female senator from South Dakota, the first woman to be elected to the US Senate without previously been appointed to her position, and the first unmarried female senator.

    Gladys Pyle was born in Huron, South Dakota. Her parents raised her and her sisters with a highly public service orientation, her father was a South Dakota attorney general, and her mother was active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
    Pyle earned her liberal arts degree from Huron College, which her parents were its patrons. After her graduation, she taught in public high schools and served as a principal. At the age of 30, she stopped teaching and worked as a lecturer for the League of Women Voters. Then she decided to practice what she had preached and made a transition to politics.
    When Gladys Pyle was 33 years old, she became the first female member of the State House of Representatives, and afterward, she served as Secretary of State of South Dakota, the first woman in this position. During that time, she lost the 1930 gubernatorial elections. In 1938, due to the vacancy caused by the death of South Dakota’s Serving Governor, Pyle was elected to the United States Senate. She was the first woman elected to the U.S Senate without having previously been appointed to her position but served in this position for a term of only two months. After her tenure ended, she returned to her previous interests in the insurance business and farm management. However, she always stayed involved in public service work.
    Pyle became a member of the South Dakota Board of Charities and Corrections, an agent for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, and the first woman in the state to serve on a jury. In 1940, Pyle was the first woman to address a national political convention, speaking on behalf of the Republican candidate Harland J. Bushfield.

    “Citizenship is service”

    “Citizenship is service”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Because she never officially sworn into the Senate, she had to pay her own travel expenses.
    • Before her death, she recorded her memoirs from her upbringing in the propose to turn her family home into a museum. Today the Pyle House Museum is registered as a national historic place.
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  • Woman Tags: Senator

    Landscpaes of South Dakota: Gladys Pyle

  • Senator Pyle in 1938. Photo credit - Harris & Ewing, photographer @ Library of Congress.