Women’s History Month: A look at influential women in South Dakota politics

J.P. Duniphan served in the South Dakota Legislature from 1995 to 2005.
J.P. Duniphan served in the South Dakota Legislature from 1995 to 2005.(KOTA/KEVN)
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 10:18 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Each March, we as Americans celebrate Women’s History Month. Here in South Dakota, a number of influential and progressive women made a lasting mark on the state, paving the way for today’s women.

Born in 1890 in Huron, Gladys Shields Pyle would one day run for governor of South Dakota. She would also become the first female senator to serve as a Republican and the first female senator from the Mount Rushmore State.

Pyle rallied support during the Depression by pushing various highway and Works Progress Administration programs. She also worked with the Department of the Interior on behalf of landholders on Indian reservations who had suffered from ruined crops and had fallen behind on mortgage payments.

She is quoted as saying “Politics is like sailing a boat. You have to learn to tack, going from one side of the river to the other. It takes a little longer, but you can make good progress.”

Gladys Pyle

A sentiment shared years later by another trailblazing female politician, J.P. Duniphan.

“But the most important thing is that you’re honest and represent them and you know, you can attack the issue but don’t attack the individual and never attack their family,” said Duniphan. “That’s just not what we do because we’re going to agree on so many issues and so many of them are Republican or Democrat, they’re east-west, ag non-ag, industry, whatever it might be, climate, and so it’s important that you maintain that dignity.”

Born and raised in Rapid City, Duniphan served in the South Dakota legislature from 1995 to 2005.

“You know, I was so honored to serve in the House and Senate and I was the majority whip and I was a committee chair and I tried to train and mentor new legislators of both parties so they felt comfortable,” continued Duniphan. “It’s a tremendous honor to represent your area and our wonderful state.”

Although her time in the legislature may be done, Duniphan is proud to see more women stepping up to the political plate.

“It’s wonderful to see it and they’re having the courage and you know, the dedication and the interest in representing women and men and children and their whole constituency. I’ll admit, I’m a personal friend of the governors and I think she’s outstanding and she’s well respected,” said Duniphan. “You know, there are 9 female governors in the United States now, that was unheard of 10 years ago and I think they bring a lot to the table.”

Duniphan left her mark as a politician and small business owner and offers advice to those who may follow in her footsteps as she did Gladys Pyle’s.

“Women today are not afraid to try and if they have someone they can call on and ask a question of, I think the most important thing we can do is mentor and advise,” said Dunihpan.