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Suffrage Pioneers Alice and John Pickler

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South Dakota State Archives

The notion that women’s voting rights ought to be affirmed in the U.S. Constitution was decades old by the time Dakota Territory was organized in 1861. The Territorial Legislature first considered the idea in 1868, but it would be another 50 years before an amendment to the South Dakota State Constitution finally recognized woman suffrage rights.

Alice Alt while attending the University of Iowa

All Images Courtesy: South Dakota State Archives

Alice Alt Pickler and her husband, John A. Pickler, were two of the earliest and most active supporters of woman suffrage in South Dakota. Alice Alt was born in Iowa. She was well-educated, well-spoken, and, by the time she graduated from the University of Iowa, well-connected to a national network of temperance and suffrage activists.

John A. Pickler while serving in the Civil War

John Pickler was born in Indiana but, as a child, moved with his family to an Iowa farm. At age 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He was promoted several times, eventually reaching the rank of major. As an officer, Pickler was trained to lead so-called "colored" soldiers. In 1865, he was placed in command of a regiment of black troops stationed in Atlanta.

Major John A. Pickler, 1870s

After the war, Major Pickler attended the Old University of Chicago and went on to earn a law degree at the University of Michigan.

Alice Alt and John Pickler were married in 1870 and established themselves in Muscatine, Iowa. They came to South Dakota from Iowa in 1883 in the company of fellow Iowans lured to the region by the promise of good farmland. The group traveled by train and eventually by wagon to a frontier location in Faulk County, where they established the town of Faulkton. Major Pickler restarted his legal practice, set up a land office, and was very soon making a good living by processing the many new land claims in the area.

Pickler Land Office, Faulkton.

In 1884, the Picklers began building a grand home in Faulkton. Unlike many pioneers, they had the money to hire carpenters and other craftsmen. The mansion was finished in 1894 after several modifications and additions. The Picklers raised four children in the home.

Both John and Alice Pickler were exceptionally outspoken and active in the temperance and suffrage movements of the day. Mrs. Pickler led state and national organizations working on both issues. She was well-acquainted with the most prominent activists of the era, including Susan B. Anthony, who stayed in the Pickler home during several visits to South Dakota.

Alice Alt Pickler

Major Pickler was a member of the Dakota Territorial Legislature from 1883 to 1889. Major Pickler introduced several suffrage bills during his time Pierre. His 1885 suffrage proposal passed both houses but Governor Gilbert Pierce vetoed the measure.

Pickler went on to serve South Dakota in the U.S. Congress from 1889 - 1897. He chaired a committee on "invalid pensions," essentially a veteran's rights oversight committee.

Major Pickler with other Civil War veterans at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion.

The Picklers never stopped working on the issues they cared about and they and inspired many younger activists to pick up where they had left off. John Pickler died in 1910. Alice passed away in 1932.

The Pickler mansion sat vacant from 1958 until 1987 but it has been lately been restored to some of its former grandeur thanks to by the Faulk County Historical Society, which now holds the deed to the property. Funding for the restoration has been provided by Faulk County, the South Dakota State Historical Society, and private donation. Tours are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Listen to SDPB Radio's Lori Walsh interview Jody Moritz, President of the Faulk County Historical Society, on "In The Moment." Moritz describes the house and its preservation and talks a bit about how many of the Pickler's important papers and other mementos were archived for prosperity at the South Dakota State Archives.

View an index of the Pickler Papers collection preserved at the South Dakota State Archives.

Read more about the Picklers in this South Dakota State Historical Society article.

See more photos and a related SDPB article about the mansion.

Visit the Faulk County Historical Society's Facebook page for information about visiting the home and upcoming events.