From suffrage to success


Women of the past paved the way for women of the present

The constitution was created to form a nation where everyone was equal but only if they were white, landowning males. This idea of equality and opportunity did not extend toward women or minorities.

Even today women are fighting to have their voices heard in a sea of males, but on the South Dakota State campus women are making strides to be heard in higher education. Women students now outnumber the male students at SDSU. 

According to the SDSU Fact Book, there are 6,732 females attending SDSU and 5,857 males. Females make up 53 percent of the campus population and males only make up 47 percent.

Before women could have rights on a university campus, they had to let society know that their opinions and thoughts were equal to the opinions of men. Women were not granted the right to vote until the 19th amendment in 1920.

 Women were granted the right to vote, but this did not end the gender divide. 

“Those women have been forgotten in terms of sacrifices they have made because what do we see in the polls? Not a lot of people still vote,” Jennifer Novotny, executive director of The Union, said. “[The suffragettes] were suffering tremendous blows and they continued and they continued and they continued … those women had really strong convictions, very strong faith.”

Discrimination because of gender, race and religion continued until the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. Today, women are fighting to be considered equal. They are doing this by fighting for equal pay, reproductive rights and other concerns.

 March is dedicated to honoring the successes, accomplishments and experiences of women who have shaped society.

“It’s honoring all of the women that have paved the way, you know, recognizing the importance of women in everything,” April Eastman said, director of the American Indian Education and Cultural Center.

“Culturally, women are the backbones. We’re the givers of life and that’s something interesting to see when you come out of that cultural context because in dominant society that is not typically how women are viewed in the families, in society in general,” Eastman said.

The women of the past increased the freedoms for the women of the present. However, women are still underrepresented in administrative roles.

The South Dakota Board of Regents and the upper administration on campus is largely composed of men. There is one woman serving on the SDBOR and two women working as executive officers at SDSU.

Since the beginning of SDSU in 1884, previously known as South Dakota State College, there have been 18 male presidents for the university and one female. 

The university employs 2,103 individuals. In the fall of 2015, there were 606 faculty and 276 or 45.5 percent of those are women, according to the SDBOR Fact Book. 

To honor Women’s History Month and the women at SDSU, the Women’s Studies Committee is hosting April Brooks Honor of Distinction March 29 at 3 p.m. Four women will be recognized across campus in the categories of administrative and professional staff, faculty, civil service and students.

Liz Tolman, women’s studies coordinator, said the Woman of Distinction award started in 2001 when April Brooks was the coordinator of the women’s studies program. The name of the event was changed last year to honor Brooks. 

Tolman said the event is an opportunity to “showcase and highlight” the accomplishments and experiences of successful women at SDSU.

“It’s just one of those warm, fuzzy kind of events, I guess, where you get to learn about other women and what they’ve done,” Tolman said.

The April Brooks Woman of Distinction Award is just one of the ways women are present on campus. Other ways women are being celebrated are through speakers and presentations. 

Gender differences and issues are shown through SDSU faculty and staff’’s experiences.



Literature was Jennifer Novotny’s entrance into college, but she found her passion once she started her career in educational administration.

Novotny, executive director of The Union, was an English major with a literature emphasis in college, but during time in college she worked at a non-alcoholic nightclub at Minnesota University at Moorhead. This was her first experience in management and it sparked a passion which eventually led her to get her master’s degree in that area.

“I’ve kind of hit the jackpot at this university,” Novotny said. “I’ve never been bored.” 

She has served at SDSU for 11 years in varying positions, 

“I am so fortunate because I have had men and women both in adult roles, professional roles, see in me things that I had yet to discover,” Novotny said. “If you have some loyalty and integrity, you can build skill sets. If you have the willingness to learn hard things, you can actually be a great part of the team.”

Novotny said the women who came before her had to use their own ingenuity to survive. They did not have the luxury of buying items at a store. 

She advised women to look for mentors and people to support them. 

“Look for allies around you and don’t assume they’re women,” Novotny said. “Arm yourselves with not just women colleagues, strong women like I would have thought maybe years ago, but instead arm yourself with good people who see who you are and see the value you bring into a setting and do the same for them.”



Ruth Harper is part of the generation that proudly stated, “I am woman. I can do it all.”

Harper is a professor in counseling and human resource development. She is a coordinator for two specialities: student affairs administration and college counseling. She is a co-adviser for the Gay Straight Alliance.

Harper plans on retiring at the end of this year and bringing her 22-year-career at SDSU to a close.

Harper said she tried to be a woman who had a successful career and a family. 

“Sometimes I was that woman and I was exhausted, but I am married, I have had children, I have been really involved in my career,” Harper said. “It was the generation that we told each other and we told ourselves that we could do it all, and some days we were right and some days we were wrong.” 

She advised women of the future to follow their dreams.

“Figure out what you’re good at and what you love, and do it because you will be criticized, especially women, because of the choices you make no matter what those choices are so just go … where your heart and your gifts take you.”



Creative fiction and nonfiction is one way Christine Stewart, as associate professor of English, is making her experiences accessible and relatable for others.

Stewart focuses on teaching. However, she is also working on her sixth book of poetry. She plans on opening an exhibit at the South Dakota Art Museum of her poetry paired with pieces of art done by women.

Women’s History Month, according to Stewart, is a way to pay attention to women who have made life possible for the current generation. 

Stewart said she has never experienced blatant discrimination because of her gender, but she questions the treatment given to her because of the creative nonfiction and poetry she creates.

In the future, Christine wants SDSU to make some changes to its treatment of faculty, both men and women, who are parents.

“We should have daycare centers in jobs or we should be able to bring our children work or we should be able to work from home and be flexible on some days,” Stewart said. “We should demand paid parental leave.”



April Eastman comes from a long line of strong Native American women and she hopes to continue this tradition.

“Not everybody has a formal education, but everybody is doing really great things within our tribal community. It’s helped shape me because it helps you not get stuck in the ‘woe is me’ [mentality],” Eastman said, the director at the American Indian Education and Cultural Center.

Her role models were the women in her family. 

“A lot of times, especially minority women, you don’t have role models, you may not know people in real life that have done the things you want to do or can encourage you to do those things,” Eastman said.

Eastman grew up  in a family where equality was central to the family structure. There were roles that were predominately male and female, but for the majority women and men split the responsibilities. She said she remembered one uncle who was in charge of the children while her aunt commuted to the University of South Dakota to finish her degree.

“As a woman and as a minority, I think it’s a definitely male-dominated world,” Eastman said. “There tends to be more men at the table than there are women and definitely not people of color.”