Personalities: Gladys Pyle - A Woman of "Firsts" in Politics and Government

Oct 17, 2018

Gladys Pyle in 1939

Gladys Pyle was the first woman elected to the S.D. House, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to address a national political convention. 

Pyle was born in Huron, South Dakota in 1890. She attended Huron College, earned a degree, and taught school in Miller, Wessington, and Huron. Pyle's father had been a South Dakota attorney general and her mother, Mamie, had been very active in the women's suffrage movement. (South Dakota women were granted voting rights in 1918, a year before federal passage of the 19th Amendment.)

Credit U.S. Senate Historical Office

In 1923, Gladys Pyle became the first woman elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives. She served in the House until 1927, when she took over as South Dakota's Secretary of State.

Pyle sought the Republican nomination for governor in 1930 but lost by a narrow margin.

She earned a living outside of politics in the insurance business.

After U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck died in 1936, Governor Tom Berry appointed fellow Democrat Herbert E. Hitchcock to fill the vacancy. Hitchcock failed to win the Democratic nomination ahead of the 1938 general election and was forced to resign from the Senate in November. Republican Chan Gurney won the 1938 Senate race but could not officially begin work until January, 1939. South Dakotans did not want a gap in their Senate representation so a special election was held concurrent with the general election. Chan Gurney could not legally be on both ballots so Republicans picked Gladys Pyle as their candidate in the special election. She defeated her Democratic challenger by a wide margin and became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She held the post for two months before the Chan Gurney was inaugurated.

In 1940, Gladys Pyle became the first woman to address a national political convention.

Gladys Pyle was named oldest living U.S. Senate member in 1988. She died in Huron in 1989 at the age of 98.

Her home in Huron, which was built by her father in 1894, is now a museum. For location and hours, visit this City of Huron Web site.

In 1994, Huron radio personality Chuck Anderson interviewed two individuals closely associated with the museum. Ruby Johanssen and Nancy Holzklaw talk about the life and legacy of Gladys Pyle.

Listen to a summary of Gladys Pyle's "firsts" and other accomplishments.

Chuck, Nancy and Ruby toured the Pyle home. Listen to a brief excerpt of the tour in the clip below:

Listen to Chuck's complete interview below.