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Gladys Pyle


In office
November 9, 1938–January 3, 1939
Preceded by Herbert E. Hitchcock
Succeeded by J. Chandler Gurney

Born October 4, 1890
Huron, South Dakota
Died March 14, 1989 (aged 98)
Huron, South Dakota
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) None

Gladys Pyle (October 4, 1890 – March 14, 1989) was a South Dakota politician and the first woman elected to the United States Senate without having previously been appointed to her position; she was also the first woman senator to serve as a Republican and the first woman senator from South Dakota. She was also the first female senator never to marry.

She was born to John and Mamie (Shields) Pyle and graduated from Huron College in 1911. She taught in the public high schools at Miller, Wessington, and Huron from 1912-1918. In 1923 she became first woman member of the State House of Representatives, serving from 1923-1927. Pyle then served as Secretary of State of South Dakota from 1927-1931 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 1930, garnering nearly a third of the vote in the primary but losing after seven recounts of the votes. She was a member of the State securities commission from 1931-1933. She engaged in the life insurance business in private life.

Gladys, her mother Mamie, and two sisters very involved in the Women's Suffrage movement and frequently hosted meetings of the local chapter in their house.

On November 8, 1938 she was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Peter Norbeck. She defeated Tom Berry, a former Democratic Governor of South Dakota. She served from November 9, 1938, to January 3, 1939, and did not seek re-election to the seat.

In 1940 she became the first woman to deliver a presidential nominating speech at a national convention, speaking out for candidate Wendell Willkie.

She resumed her career in the life insurance business and also engaged in farm management. She later became a member of the South Dakota Board of Charities and Corrections 1943-1957 and agent for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. 1950-1986.

Gladys Pyle died in Huron on March 14, 1989. Her ashes are interred in Riverside Cemetery with her relatives.

The family home that she lived in from 1894 until 1985 is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been converted into a museum. It is largely unchanged from when it was built and has many of the original furnishings. The carpeting, wallpaper, windows (including three stained-glass sections), doors, interior layout, radiators, door hardware, and wood finish are original or nearly so. In fact, although a more modern gas-powered furnace has replaced the original coal-fired one, the original ornate radiators still heat the house.

The home remained largely in its original state due to the death of Gladys' father, John Levi Pyle, in 1902 of typhoid fever. John Pyle was a local attorney as well as local politician, so after his death his family had to work hard to keep the house, and little money was available for new furnishings or interior decorations.

The house contains numerous Pyle family artifacts, including her maternal grandfather's discharge papers from the 2nd New Jersey Infantry Regiment (dated March 27, 1866), photos of both of Gladys' grandparents, and the Pyle family Bible dating to the 1840s. The Huron College Rubiquat from the early 1900s (featuring pictures of her two sisters as students) is on display as well. Also, a ballot that she appeared on is framed next to the downstairs bathroom, and her father's cavalry sword and uniform from his duties as general of the South Dakota Regiment (the precursor to the South Dakota National Guard) are on display.

The upstairs bedrooms and bathroom (including Huron's first indoor bathtub) has been converted into a small apartment for the live-in caretaker and is not viewable to the public. It is located at 376 Idaho Ave SE in Huron (across from the local hospital) and is open to visitors for a nominal fee from 1pm to 3:30pm daily.

References

United States Senate
Preceded by
Herbert E. Hitchcock
United States Senator (Class 3) from South Dakota
November 9, 1938-January 3, 1939
Served alongside: William Bulow
Succeeded by
J. Chandler Gurney
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Samuel Reynolds
Oldest living U.S. Senator
March 20, 1988-March 14, 1989
Succeeded by
Frank Briggs

"PYLE, Gladys Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the US Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=P000581. Retrieved August 3 2005.  


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