Before South Dakota became a state, women played prominent roles in developing its communities by creating the first school district, organizing social clubs, and operated businesses. Despite these contributions, they did not have equal suffrage. When South Dakota became a state in 1889, women’s suffrage was rejected in the state’s constitution, but prohibition became law.
The Sioux Falls Brewing Company was one of the first industries created in Sioux Falls. Although South Dakota was “dry,” the brewery continued to manufacture beer for “wet” states during state prohibition. The brewery survived state prohibition but was forced to cease operations when federal prohibition went into effect in 1919.
To help bolster support for prohibition and women’s suffrage, organizations formed to spread their messages. Mary “Mamie” Pyle led the South Dakota Universal Franchise League in 1911. At the time, the issues of women’s suffrage and prohibition were often interlinked. Pyle believed that the only way the suffrage movement would succeed would be to distance itself from prohibition.
Both women’s suffrage and prohibition appeared on South Dakota’s ballot in 1916. Prohibition once again became state law, but women’s suffrage was rejected. However, the measure appeared on the ballot in 1918 and was passed by more than 20,000 votes. A year later, U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
In 1920, the 18th Amendment, also known as federal prohibition, went into effect. Policing alcohol during federal prohibition was difficult. Gangs supplied people with equipment to make liquor, and then the bootlegged alcohol was distributed to speakeasies. These establishments could be as elaborate as a ballroom with a bandstand or as simple as a hotel room. Sioux Falls had its own problems with illegal distilleries, bootlegging, and speakeasies.