Cynthia in the Dakotas


Jerry L. Bryant

So very often the mental image we have of women on the western frontier is that of a physically strained, often emotionally drained, haggard soul following her husband’s covered wagon to a new land. The women in these images give birth to countless un-sung farm hands, born to assist the family’s reaping of the promised amber waves of grain.   The following history sheds light on another female pioneer; the woman who dared stand alone in a male-dominated work force. While capable of doing a hard day’s work  getting sweaty and dirty  she was also a master of complex thoughts and original ideas.

Like the vast majority of folks that gathered in the Black Hills after Custer verified the presence of gold, Cynthia Eloise Cleveland came from elsewhere, and was headed somewhere else again.   But before it would all end she would have a most dramatic affect on the Dakotas.

Born in Canton, New York in 1845 to a family with a solid American Revolutionary War background,[1] her education was at the local schools and the Medina Free Academy.[2] Because Cynthia’s mother was frail, and Cynthia was the oldest child, she handled all the hard work around the house. Cynthia had a phenomenal memory and a love of books and learning. But the rigors of caring for the house and being a full time student began to erode her health and she was forced to quit school the year before she was to graduate.[3]   

In 1875, when Cynthia was 30 years old, her family moved to Pontiac, Michigan where she lived at 173 Saginaw St. and made a living by selling fancy goods.[4] A short time later her family moved again, this time to Nebraska. Not wanting to lose her job, Cynthia stayed in Michigan. For the first time she discovered that she had an unusual commodity  spare time. Cynthia came into contact with a group of like-minded souls in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and through that organization became certified as an Evangelist.  The fact that she next appeared in the public record on the 1880 National Census, where her occupation was listed as a “lecturer,” gives ample proof of the major effect the WCTU had on Cynthia.[5] After a brief four-year association with the WCTU, Cynthia was offered an appointment by the National Office as president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the Dakotas. While all of this sounds good, she was also the only member of the WCTU in the Dakotas.

Cynthia Cleveland left Michigan in January of 1880 for the Dakotas. Crossing into Nebraska to visit her family before going to Dakota Territory, she encountered her first obstacle  a blizzard. The worst snowstorm of the winter of 1879-80 greeted her, but onward she traveled. In her own words, as part of a report to the National Office of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, her beginnings in Dakota Territory went like this:

“After Miss Willard appointed me organizer of Dakota, I left my Michigan home in January of 1880 for my field of labor. I was blockaded seven weeks by snow in a frontier town in Nebraska, where my family lived. Four weeks of the seven the settlement was without flour, having to grind their corn and wheat as well as they could in a large coffee mill, owned by one of the settlers for grinding (cattle) feed … From the flooded section I went to central and northern Dakota, laboring in the Black Hills, at the military posts and in the railroad and river towns. The work has been mostly missionary in its character, but we trust the foundation is laid for effective organization another year. The press has treated me kindly, and the people have welcomed me with true frontier hospitality.”[6]

What Cynthia did not mention in her report were the negative aspects of local concern that she would encounter in the Dakotas, especially in the Black Hills. There had been temperance representatives in the Hills delivering their messages since 1877; with the first known being Captain W. A. Beard, representing the Reform Temperance Club in May of that year.[7] The Captain came from New Bedford, Mass. to open a grocery store in Deadwood. In addition to his aversion to liquor he was a strong advocate of the railroad coming to Deadwood. The two ideas seemed to many people at the time to be at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, with many in Deadwood fearing that an end to the liquor traffic in Deadwood would severely weaken the economic stability of the town as a whole. In 1878 the Black Hills Daily Times published an article which claimed that the temperance movement was “like a tidal wave moving westward from Yankton.”[8] Also, in 1877 Murphy’s Blue Ribbon movement had made it to Deadwood. Then there was the Red Ribbon Club in 1879, holding meetings and attempting to raise the ire of the average citizen against the evils of alcohol. All of these strong national organizations perhaps worried the average drinker on but a rare occasion, but absolutely horrified those who lived for it, or made their living from it.[9] Naturally, the folks who were advocating temperance came under the most intense scrutiny by local observers, and on May 17th, 1878, when a number of them were found in a public drinking establishment it made the news, and true or false, some damage had been done.[10] Local residents considered many of the temperance folks to be akin to carpet-baggers, out to win influence, gain power amid the maelstrom of frontier life, and somehow make money. In March of 1881, the editor of the Black Hills Daily Times ran an editorial that stated that he felt that “Prohibition would have a greater economic impact on Deadwood than the Great Deadwood fire (of 1879) had.”[11]

Cynthia arrived in the Black Hills in July of 1881. Entering Deadwood, she presented herself at the offices of the Black Hills Daily Times. When she left that place of business she took with her nothing less than their respect and praise. They ran the following statement after her visit:

“This Lady honored our office with a visit. We were impressed with her earnestness and lady-like deportment. In the great cause for which she is working we wish her abundant success. This week she lectures and works in Lead, the next in Central, and the week following here. She comes with the highest recommendations. She is endeavoring to engage the Gem Theater for her work. We bespeak for her earnest attention and respectful treatment.”[12] 

By the 12th of July, having only lectured in Lead, Cynthia had convinced more than 100 Leadites to sign her Temperance Pledge.[13] From Lead Cynthia went to Central City. Her strategy was as simple as it was compelling. The first half-hour of lecture was for the children of the community, and then she turned her attention to the “grown male sinners.”[14] She lectured at Central City until 22 July and then went to Terraville. At Terraville she used the school and invited everyone. As she had done previously in Central City, Cynthia spoke first to the children and then to the adults.[15] Cynthia, known as Clara to those who followed her, worked hard. After giving an evening lecture in Terraville, she would rise early, walk down the mountainside to Central City to attend services at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, and then give a temperance lecture in the early afternoon.[16] 

Cynthia began making her way to Deadwood on the 29th of July, 1881. She started her lecture series at the Lawrence County courthouse on Sherman Street. The First Methodist Episcopalian Congregation used the courthouse as their church at this early date, and Cynthia was going to be in the pulpit that morning and then again that evening.[17]  The next day Cynthia rented Nye’s opera house. As before, she maintained her established and successful formula. The paper read: “The order of proceedings this evening will be as follows: Children’s meeting at 7 o’clock, workers’ meeting at 7:30 and the regular proceedings at 8 o’clock. A general invitation is extended to everybody. Admission is free.”[18] On the same day as her scheduled lecture at Nye’s, Cynthia was observed making the rounds to all of Deadwood's saloons, decorating the counters with handbills inviting the clientele to come and hear her “gospel lecture” on temperance that evening. The Times reporter, always having the last word, then stated at the end of the article “We presume, as it is dull times, they will all go and take the pledge.”[19] The truth of the matter was, the reporter was correct, and fifty-five of Deadwood’s young men and women took the pledge. She informed the Times that she was still somewhat uneasy with the turnout, because she had not seen any of Deadwood’s businessmen at her lectures. So the Times, always obliging, went on to say, “She wants the old sinners to come out, and if she can’t do them good before they are lost beyond redemption.”

In addition to Cynthia’s temperance lectures, she also gave a lecture for the ladies on the “Progress of Temperance Reform and the Outlook of the Work.”[20] In the short span of three days Cynthia had swayed the Deadwood press into believing that her cause was not only just, but that her approach was logical, and her views anything but fanatical. On the third of August the Times had this to say:  ”Miss Cleveland, one of the most worthy ladies engaged in the temperance work, and an eloquent lecturer, will speak this evening, or rather resume her course of lectures at Nye’s opera house. The lady is a conscientious worker, strong in her convictions and has the faculty of presenting her view on the subject in a manner calculated to inspire confidence. She does not insult her audiences by indiscriminate denouncement and reckless charges. Go and hear her.” [21] 

In the same issue of the Times Cynthia published her “Sure Cure for Drunkenness.” She related the story of a well-known English sea captain, Vine Hall, Commander of the Great Eastern Steamship. The man had taken to constant drinking and long periods of drunkenness.  When he decided that he had enough of it, “his utmost efforts to regain himself proved unavailing.” Captain Hall sought the advice of an eminent physician, who gave him the following prescription:

“Phosphate of Iron, five grains

Magnesia, ten grains

Peppermint water, eleven grains

Spirit of Nutmeg, one drachma,

Cynthia declared that the prescription acted as a tonic and a stimulant, and would cure the physical and moral decline that often accompanies sudden cessation of “stimulating drinks.”[22] Regretfully, none of the local papers ran any tributes to the success of her cure.

In the early days of July, reporters had commented that she would draw crowds because times were slow. By the end of July pay dirt was hit overlooking Spearfish Canyon and the new camp of Carbonate exploded onto the scene. Like in a vacuum, all the unemployed miners, all the speculators, vanished from Deadwood. The “New Carbonate Camp” occupied much of the news. When the second Carbonate Mining Company opened with shareholders such as the Adams Brothers, Jake Shoudy, Sol Star, and Seth Bullock, it seemed obvious to everyone that Carbonate was the up and coming place of concern.[23] Because of the Carbonate “rush,” Cynthia’s lectures had not been attracting the large audiences she desired, so she changed her lecture schedule from twice a day to every other night. In the opening days of August 1881, Cynthia was often able to have two articles concerning her work published in the Black Hills Daily Times in a single issue. This was no small feat. The Times noted that she was probably “the best single handed talker who ever visited the Hills.” The article then went on to indicate that “it would do the old sinners of Deadwood a world of good to go and hear her at least once.”[24] 

Cynthia succeeded in making a “tough sell” idea eminently palatable, if not downright delectable in a town where “sin” was the Main Street mainstay. Part of her success was the variety of subjects that she lectured on. Her subjects varied from the domestic to the political, from “Our Young Folks” to “Liquor Traffic and Taxation.” Her abilities and variety led one Times reporter to say “Miss Cleveland’s lectures are all fresh, interesting and instructive — a genuine intellectual treat to even those who delight in looking upon the wine when it is red.”[25] Cynthia was making such a profound impression on the entire city of Deadwood and its satellite camps that the Times was compelled to write a long (130 lines) article on her work. One small part of the article summed up the total;

“A prominent trait of Miss Cleveland’s character is her good, sound, solid sense, unwarped by prejudice or fanaticism, and for that reason she can command a respectful hearing and even a hearty welcome from drinking and saloon men, when a rabid partisan would be shown the door.”[26] 

Cynthia had convinced 455 of the local population to take her temperance pledge. The demographics looked like this: Deadwood-116, Lead-114, Central City-69, Terraville-34 (with the work at Terraville still not complete), Custer-46, Rockerville-35, Rapid City-20, Spearfish-19, with Crook City, Sturgis and Fort Meade not yet canvassed. In addition, she also succeeded in organizing the Deadwood Chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, with Mrs. Charleton as president and Mrs. Pelton and Mrs. Jones as vice-presidents.[27] In other areas of the Territory, Cynthia’s progress and the fact that she succeeded in forming a temperance union in the rowdiest of environments  Deadwood  did not go unnoticed.[28] 

With a large percentage of the male population having vanished from Deadwood by the 11th of August, Cynthia decided that she needed to see what all the excitement was about in Carbonate. She borrowed a horse and visited the Carbonate Camp on horseback. She was in “ecstasy,” having never been witness to the sudden and abrupt changes that gold could have on a population. She was amazed at the rush, hurry, and enterprise of the people.[29] On the 18th of August 1881, after having delivered lectures to every mining camp she could find in the Black Hills, Cynthia climbed aboard the Sydney Stage for a short run in Rapid City. During her four-week stay in the Hills she garnered 500 signatures to the temperance pledge. After Rapid City she intended a short stay in Pierre, and then would push on to tour the northern portion of the Territory.[30]

In early September of 1881 Cynthia arrived in Bismarck, and began a series of lectures at the Methodist Episcopal Church. She opened the evening with a lecture entitled “The Progress of Temperance Reform and the Outlook for the Future.”[31] Her absence did not dissuade the Deadwood Papers from following and publishing her progress. Thus on  September 6 the editor of the Times recommended that his contemporary at the Bismarck Tribune, “Brother Lounsberry,” should perhaps seek out Cynthia’s medicine, “administered without money and without price.”[32] The Bismarck Tribune announced her arrival with this short but telling article:

“Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland, of the National Temperance Union, is in the city to aid in organizing a temperance work. She is vice president of the Women’s Temperance Union, of Sixth Congressional District of Michigan, and is a lecturer of some note. She held her first meeting at the Methodist Church last evening, and will speak again on Friday evening, The Detroit and other Michigan papers speak in high terms of Miss Cleveland as a lecturer and as a highly cultivated lady.”[33] 

In the fall of 1881 Cynthia was ready to report the progress of her labors to her peers at the national meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Washington, DC. The Black Hills Daily Times reported her presence at the Washington meetings, and informed their readership that Cynthia had declared that she would become a resident of the Dakotas, but must have been embarrassed to report her comments about the Black Hills.[34] As the conference went on the Times did state that they were proud to have “Miss Clara E. Cleveland” representing the brains and beauty of the Territory of Dakota. [35] If the Times seemed somewhat reticent to report what Cynthia had to say about the Black Hills, the Bismarck Tribune seemed compelled to tell the world:  “Miss Cynthia Cleveland, of Dakota, told the story of her work in that territory, its trials and dangers, and its grand results. She had gone into the saloons in the Black Hills and urged the rugged but warm-hearted miners to take the pledge. She had never been insulted; no woman could be insulted in that country, for the sex was held in perfect reverence. It is a fascinating field of work and one in which a woman’s influence could accomplish almost anything.”[36] 

At the end of November, 1881, Cynthia returned to the Dakotas from the W.C.T.U. Washington meeting. It was noted that she had been elected Vice President of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union and that she was beginning a series of lectures in Yankton.[37] While delivering her lectures in Yankton, Cynthia again caught the attention of the press in the Black Hills when the Times reported that she had said “it was believed by hundreds of people that President Garfield was murdered by whiskey — that his physicians insisted upon giving him alcoholic stimulants in the face of protests of the temperance element, and that in the end he died — not from the bullet of the assassin, but a victim of whiskey.” Needless to say, such comments could not go un-noticed, and the Times noted: “This is a new revelation in the case which should at once be communicated to the innocent prisoner at the bar. It might save his precious neck.”[38] Cynthia had never been considered fanatical by the local press, but her presidential comment did raise more than a few eyebrows in the Black Hills. Yet, a month later, on the 30th of December when the Times got wind of her whereabouts, they published this short, but telling paragraph: “Miss Cleveland, the temperance lecturer, passed through Huron on Saturday last for Pierre where she now is. If possible let her come back and visit Deadwood, as she would meet with a hearty reception.”[39]

Soon after that the Chamberlain Register announced in January of 1882, that:

“Miss Cleveland has bought a lot here and is having a building put up. This will henceforth be the headquarters of the Christian Women’s Temperance Union in the Dakotas. All letters to Miss Cleveland should be directed to Chamberlain, Dakota.”[40] 

In March of 1882, during the worst blizzard of the season, Cynthia set out for the new town of Highmore. She located a claim of 160 acres on the 4th of March and began her occupation of the land. She maintained her claim as a squatter for six months until the property came on the market. Then she made her final proof as a pre-emptor. When Cynthia proved up, all of her witnesses claimed that she had initially built a house on the claim and broke up 5 acres of land. In Cynthia’s own testimony, she states that she built a home on the property, broke up 5 acres of land for planting, and planted corn and potatoes. In addition she also planted a subsistence garden. One of Cynthia’s witnesses said that she built a 10 foot by 12 foot house with a door, windows, and a shingled roof. In addition to the house, he stated that she also built a 5 foot by 10 foot stable. [41]

In the summer of that year, Cynthia was called away from her homestead to take care of temperance business, which she considered to be her primary objective. She issued a call for the first Dakota Territorial W.C.T.U. convention. For the W.C.T.U. of Dakota Territory this event was the link that would give them recognition in the National Organization. During the convention they established an infrastructure, electing Cynthia as the President; Carrie Kirk of Richland as the Corresponding Secretary; and Mrs. L.I. Robinson of Sioux Falls as the Recording Secretary. At this first convention Cynthia summed up the products of her W.C.T.U. labors since she had arrived in 1880: “The work last year was almost wholly of a missionary character. During the three years, 1880, 1881, and 1882 so far, I have organized twenty-two unions, most of those having been organized since last October’s national convention, at which I was made president of the territorial union, and urged to get the people to organize. I have held 216 mass meetings, and secured 3,242 signatures to the total abstinence pledge.”[42]

When all was said and done, Cynthia returned to Highmore to tend her land, and bring in her crop of corn and potatoes. On October the 12th she started running her “Final Proof” in a Pierre newspaper, and it ran until November 16th.  

While today her tenacity and spunk might seem unusual, during that time many intelligent, young women were drawn to the Dakotas in a quest for land and economic independence.  The Pierre Evening Free Press ran an article about a young female school teacher who had came to the Dakotas from her teaching job in Illinois, three years before. The young lady had taken a farm, built a shanty on it and lived there. When writing back to her hometown newspaper she said: “I own 320 acres of land worth $2,000 good money. This is the product of my own labor in three years. If and of my sister teacher in the east, who toil from one years labor to another---.” She concluded her note by saying that a person “will be happier, richer, wiser, and show a better chance at getting married.”[43]

After Cynthia proved up on claim, she had it re-platted as the Cleveland Addition of Highmore, DT. She subdivided the property and prepared to sell it on the market.[44] In addition to her original 160 acres, she purchased more, bringing the total of Highmore holdings to 480 acres.[45] This began a series of socially disastrous interactions with the Dakota Territorial Governor. Cynthia attempted to convince Governor Ordway that it would be appropriate to make Highmore the new county seat. Her land was situated immediately west of and connected to the platted town of Highmore. It appears that Governor Ordway was not very interested in her plan. Rumors from a column ran in the Mitchell Daily Republican said that when Cynthia’s requests to the Governor failed, she then offered to split any and all profits with the Governor in a personal letter. This letter somehow fell into the hands of Ordway’s Private Secretary, who promptly turned it over to the Press.[46] The actual article was attributed to the Mt. Vernon Gazette, but the Dakota Journal of Pierre was not willing to say how reliable they thought the information was. That paper had the following to say about the assumed author of the letter;

“such things are to be expected from that class of ‘short haired’ women scading through the country in quest of notoriety, claiming to be the champions of their down trodden sex, the advocates of freedom and the leaders in a much needed reform; who claim the right to occupy the pulpit and rostrums, to practice the learned professions, stump the country, and in fact do anything but stay at home and discharge its duties, like good sensible true Christian women ought to do. It is not that the world cares what professions the Anthonies, the Clevelands and all the other such cranks practice if they attend to that business like other business people do, but they make themselves ob(v)ious in the agitation of imaginary evils, for the sole purpose of notoriety.”[47]


Soon after Cynthia had finished the business of establishing her homestead, she departed for Pierre where she petitioned Judge Edgerton for her admittance to the Bar as an attorney in Dakota Territory. On Wednesday, 18 October 1882 she was accepted, and became the first female lawyer in the territory.[48] It would appear the six months of homesteading was also spent studying for the Bar Exam, though in her political novel, “See-Saw,” she states that she had read many law books out-loud to one of her brothers because he had vision problems.[49]

Ironically, Judge Edgerton appointed her to be the Public Defender for a relatively high profile case several months later. The case involved selling liquor without a license. Perhaps this case was designed to test Cynthia’s metal. But regardless of the obvious undercurrents of a staunch temperance worker of no small standing defending a liquor peddler, she won the case. The echo of her legal prowess was heard even back in the mining camps.[50] Though winning her case may have won her friends in the hinterlands of the Dakotas, it brought criticism from the local temperance groups in Pierre and from the east, where people in leadership roles of WCTU began to question her dedication and devotion to the cause of temperance.  The attacks on Cynthia’s moral fabric and character were noticed and commented on by the news organs throughout the Territory, such as in this brief article from Bismarck:

 “Miss Cleveland, who talked temperance in Bismarck and other portions of Dakota, is now practicing law in Pierre. She was recently assigned to defend the keeper of a bawdy house  a woman  for the illicit sale of intoxicating liqueurs, and did her work so well that her client was acquitted. Now some of the awful, awful good people of Pierre censure Miss Cleveland for having done her duty. The man who boasts of the families he has ruined, or lives in one almost constant debauch is treated kindly and received in almost any society, but the woman who makes one false step is gone forever, so far as the entreat of her own sex is concerned. Even those disposed to treat her kindly are (critics) as Miss Cleveland is now criticized.”[51] 

 In a one paragraph brief, the Dakota Register of Chamberlain summed up the problem very well:  “Grand Forks has a woman carriage painter, and she is pronounced the best in the place. Pierre has a woman lawyer, and she gets away with all the other lawyers and acquits her clients. The other lawyers and some of the newspapers are mad about it and are abusing her for it. Pass it around gentlemen, and abuse every criminal lawyer in the country; you have just as much right to.”[52] 


The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa wrote this brief article on her decision to concentrate on her law practice: “Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland; the only lady lawyer in Dakota, and widely and well known as the president of the Dakota W. C. T. U., has concluded to enter upon the active practice of her profession.”[53]

As though oblivious to local criticism over the Adah Williams case, Cynthia almost immediately set out on a new quest, making it her business to ensure that the young people of Pierre had access to higher education. To accomplish this mission she set off on a tour of the East Coast to solicit funds from the “prosperous Presbyterians of the East.”[54] Not being one to do anything halfway, Cynthia went to the top, soliciting donations from the Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland. There can be no doubt of Cynthia’s success, in an article dated August 3, 1883 the Dakota Journal of Pierre began; ”It is due to Miss Cynthia Cleveland’s energy and enterprise, that the Journal is able to publish the following regarding the Presbyterian University of Southern Dakota.” The article went on to inform the public that the school was incorporated on the 9th of July 1883, and that it would be open for students on the 29th of September 1883. Freshman tuition for that term would be $13 or $40 for the entire year.[55]   

Cynthia appears to have been a highly visible fixture in the Pierre scene during the year 1883. She boarded at Reed’s Hotel on Pierre Street.[56] This may also have marked the point where Cynthia began severing her ties with the WCTU.[57] In August of 1883, the “Union Temperance” group held a meeting at the Congregational Church in Pierre. The meeting was held under the direction of Cynthia, but three male ministers, Thompson, Mcaffee, and Norton assisted her.[58] In October of 1883 the Dakota Journal of Pierre started playing an occasional game of name calling that started with a simple front page article that read:  “If the prohibitionists wish to do a graceful thing, let them head their ticket with the name of Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland, our talented female barrister. It would be a sort of innovation in politics, you know, and they always take with the masses.”[59]

Naturally, this brought a response from Cynthia who was working in Huron at the time:

“Dear Journal. Please do not recommend me for office on the prohibition ticket, as I am a Republican prohibitionist instead of a Prohibition Party prohibitionist.

Respectfully, Cynthia E. Cleveland”

Then the Journal proceeded to inform Cynthia that one was as bad as the other and that it would be far better for her to “attend to the duties of a lady instead of skirmishing around the Territory making a hippodrome of herself and disgracing the Republican party.”[60] With comments like that from the local press, it should be no surprise that Cynthia changed over to the Democratic party, went on the warpath, and vowed her allegiance to Grover Cleveland. On the 24th of July 1884, the Dakota Journal ran a short but precise article stating that Cynthia was at the Chicago Democratic Convention, where she was treated by several of the delegates like royalty. “She is now a confirmed Democrat.”[61]

Cynthia’s distant cousin, Grover Cleveland, received the democratic presidential nomination.

In the fall of 1884 Cynthia began actively campaigning in Michigan and Indiana for Grover Cleveland. This activity gave her the distinction of being the first woman in the United States to campaign for a Democratic presidential election.[62] While stumping for Grover Cleveland, at least part of her living was earned by giving lectures on popular topics of the day.  In Traverse City, Michigan she gave several lectures from that city’s Methodist Church on “Washington Notes” and “Why the Desperadoes of the Frontier came from Christian Homes.” For the first lecture she did not charge an admission, and the second lecture she requested a 25-cent admission at the door.[63] 

According to her first novel, “See-Saw,” after she finished stumping for Grover Cleveland in Iowa and Indiana she returned to Pierre to resume her practice. When she arrived in Pierre, local pressure was such that she was ready to leave the Territory, and start over somewhere new.[64] 

Cynthia had no sooner left the territory for Washington than rumors began circulating that her purpose for leaving was to convince President Cleveland to appoint her as the next Dakota Territorial Governor as soon as Governor Pierce was “decapitated.”[65] 

When Grover Cleveland won the Presidency, Cynthia began canvassing the new president for a job appointment, which she felt she had earned for her work in his campaign for election. But the President steadfastly refused to acknowledge her requests.[66] So she chose to overcome the problem as she had always done in the past, by studying everything available on the subject. If the President would not help her, then she would help herself. She took the civil service law examination and became the first female lawyer to be assigned a job in the Treasury Department through the Civil Service Law Exam.   Her base pay was $1,000 a year, and in early 1886 she was given a raise to $1,200 per annum.[67] 

“See-Saw,” The Novel.

In 1887 Cynthia produced her first novel, entitled “See-Saw,” and it evoked a number of responses across America. In Deadwood comments were first mentioned on the front page of the Times in November of 1887. In a brief article the Times indicated that the book was creating “such a stir in political and social circles, east.” The article then reminisced about Cynthia’s past history in the Dakotas.[68] Five days later another article appeared with significantly more detail about why the Times thought the book was so controversial. The article began by informing the reader that Cynthia’s book had created “such a furor that its publishers are credited with the design of suppressing it because of promised libel suits from several of the characters, whom the author has covered but too thinly with the web of romance.”  Again, this article briefly recapped Cynthia’s book, and stated that they thought she had entered into the government service through her campaign efforts for the president, and ended by referencing her position in the government service. “From this standpoint she has written her book, and in it she has made the characters so violently personal that they recognize themselves at a glance.[69] 

If the Black Hills Daily Times was gently scathing to an old friend, the Mitchell Daily Republican was rabid in its attack of her work, and her private life. Beginning with an immediate disclaimer that blamed the article on “Mack” of the Sioux City Journal, the Mitchell Republican began an almost positive account of her life in the Dakotas. They intimated that perhaps Cynthia’s very presence in the Dakotas was the result of a battlefield tragedy, when a young lieutenant in a Michigan regiment died on a southern battlefield in the 1860’s. The paper state that: “She clothed his memory with such heroic sacredness that she resolved never to marry.” Thus ended anything positive that the article may have had to say about Cynthia. The Daily Republican began its tirade, stating that whatever the reason, Cynthia landed in the Dakotas an old maid. As to her intelligence, the Daily Republican stated that “she had brains, even though she had a full cargo of eccentricity. They also described her appearance: “In form she was inclined to portliness, and while not a woman of beauty, there was that in her face which attracted and interested.” and “The streaks of gray that nearly whiten the once luxuriant black hair tell the story of advancing years.” From that point the article picked up a misogynistic rhythm, commenting on her failed business affairs with Governor Ordway concerning her property near Highmore and a failed love affair with a Col. S. M. Laird. All of which, if it had happened to a man, would have been chalked up as life’s experience. But since Cynthia was a woman, the items were tossed out onto the public playground.

And what of Cynthia’s book? The Mitchell Republican dedicated 27 column lines of the article to her book, and 135 lines examined the minutia of her relationships, business deals, suspected romances, physical attributes or lack thereof; in other words, gossip. The jest of their review is that the book is autobiographical, and because the assumed thin veneer of fiction had not covered well the identities of the Victorian soap opera cast, the publishers resorted to pulling the books back off of the store shelves in order to avoid numerous libel suits.[70]

In Atchison, Kansas the feeling toward the lady and her book was exactly the opposite of those expressed in Mitchell, Dakota Territory. The editors chose to place a line drawing of Cynthia in the article, and ventured to refute the description that Mitchell had put forth, saying:   “She is, on the contrary, very fine looking. She is a little over middle height, has a well-rounded form and a remarkably intellectual face. Her complexion is fair, her forehead broad and intellectual, and her eyes are bright and beautiful. She talks well and her mouth is by no means an unpleasant one. Above her forehead she combs a mass of curly gray hair, which was once golden but is now mixed with silver. She dresses well and has had a most remarkable career.”

As to Cynthia’s literary work, the Atchison Globe went on to say that “See-Saw” was not Cynthia’s first work, indicating that part of her amazing career had been spent as a journalist. See-Saw, they wrote, “is a fat volume of 200 pages, printed on heavy paper and is an actual life in the form of a novel. It is to give the voting, taxpaying masses a true representation of the life of their representatives in the departments and in congress. Miss Cleveland depicts this phase of Washington life with a master hand.”[71] 

Initially Cynthia did not even put her own name to “See-Saw,” but rather the pen name of “One of ’M.” She obviously later recanted, as the copy that this author owns is inscribed; “Compliments of the author, Cynthia E. Cleveland.” In the preface she states; “Whether this shall prove true, we leave it to the readers to decide, for, as near as can be, it is the actual history of a life, the characters being real living facts, and only changed in name.”

Much of the beginning of this lecture was written prior to my having read or owned the book, “See-Saw.” But having now read the book I can say that it follows the known history of her life to a tee. It also describes a woman of vision and vast political knowledge. Her persona, defined by “See-Saw’s” main character, Margaret Wayland, produces an indictment of the Republican Party during that period of time that addresses everything from patent monopolies on farm machinery to the centralization of wealth. It states that “Verily, the country has become a government of monopolies, by monopolies, for monopolies.”[72]  She makes no bones about telling the world of the evils of the Railroad Land Grant System.[73] The Mitchell Daily Republican seems to have missed its mark in naming Col. Laird as the man who had jilted our Ms. Cleveland, but a later article on “The Governors’ Dolls” leads the reader to a different man entirely. The article had fine line drawings of the different dolls submitted by the various state and territorial governors. When it came to Alaska it had this to say; “Swineford, notwithstanding the crosses in love which he sustained through Miss Cleveland’s novel of “See-Saw,” has sent a little Alaskan baby, which is dressed as though the thermometer was at zero, and which is brilliant in crimson cashmere. Swineford’s doll is blond, and, indeed, these various governors all seem to like blond girls.”[74] In another short piece by the Mitchell Daily Republican, they noted that “Gov. Swineford of Alaska has made his annual report to the government, but it has no reference to the blighted affections of Miss Cynthia Cleveland.”[75] 

After writing her first novel, Cynthia joined forces with one of her Dakota friends, Mrs. Linda Slaughter, Bismark’s former Postmistress, in 1888. Together they formed “The Women’s Press Association” in Washington D.C., an activity which again drew the usual giggles and snorts from the Boy’s room:  “Mrs. Slaughter especially has the invaluable characteristic commonly denominated ‘hustle,’ and Miss Cynthia Cleveland has the Arizona quality of ‘rustle.’ The other ladies who have joined the band are commingled rustlers and hustlers, and they will make music for their brother pencil drivers. Unfortunately the press galleries of the house and senate are not open to these ambitious and able society letter writers. In those galleries are to be found only those who have noses for news.”[76]

After “See-Saw,” Cynthia wrote another novel, “His Honor” or “Fates Mysteries,” which is a novel about love on the frontier. As might be expected, in February of 1890 the Mitchell Daily Republican gave “His Honor” a scathing review that ended by saying; “Where ‘His Honor’ comes in or what ‘Fate’s Mysteries’ are does not appear, as there is no diagram attached to the book.[77] In Atlanta, Georgia, the book was also noted in a slightly different light; “ ‘His Honor,’ the new Philosophical Novel by Cynthia E. Cleveland, has already achieved an assured success.”[78]

In 1890 the Washington, DC City Directory listed Cynthia as the 6th Auditor in the Treasury Department. Her location was noted as 807 12th NW, which is 5 blocks from the White House lawn. It is not known as to whether this was her place of work, home, or a boarding house.[79]

The Mitchell Daily Republican appears to have always wanted the last word, and thus they noted that in March of 1890 “Miss Cynthia E. Cleveland gave a reception recently to the Dakota people in Washington. Ex-Gov. Ordway, it may be said, was conspicuous by his absence.”[80] She was next mentioned in the Bismarck Tribune in 1892 as attending, “A Brilliant Reception: Mrs. Senator Hansbrough Entertains the Elite of the Capital.”[81] Following this brief and final recognition in Bismarck, Cynthia was relegated to appearing in short articles, scattered across the nation, concerning organizations that she belonged to. In 1895 the Stevens Point Gazette in Wisconsin noted that the Women’s National Press Association met in Atlanta, Georgia, where various ladies, including Cynthia E. Cleveland read papers.[82] In the Atlanta Constitution it was noted that the Women’s Press Association had come from Washington, DC under the leadership of Mrs. Belva Lockwood, and the association was staying in Atlanta for a two-day conference. Cynthia gave a paper entitled “Press Women and Civil Service Reform.”[83] This is the earliest reference to Cynthia and Belva Lockwood associating together, but not the last. Mrs. Belva Lockwood was the first woman to be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar and was also the first woman to be nominated for the presidency of the United Sates. In April of 1906 Cynthia and Belva Lockwood were again together as officers in the Federation of Women’s Clubs. Belva reported on Civil Service and Cynthia reported on a work plan that the committee had devised to better the City of Washington, DC. Cynthia stated that the organization would push for more sanitary conditions, training of good citizens, material municipal cleanliness, and the City Beautiful.[84]  Cynthia was also a long-time member of the Women’s National Press Association, and held the office of auditor during the years 1916 and 1917.[85] 

During all of this Cynthia still maintained a close relationship with her religious roots. In1911 she held a lawn party at her home to benefit the new Union Church. Among others, the Mayor of Washington, DC and his wife were in attendance.[86] 


Cynthia graduated in 1899 from Howard University with a Bachelor’s of Law and again in 1900 with a Master’s of Law degree.[87] At age 55, these were Cynthia’s first advanced degrees.

Cynthia worked at the US Treasury as auditor of the Post Office from 1886 to 1911. When she began employment with the Treasury her annual salary was $1,000. It topped out at $1,400 before her retirement.[88]

In approximately 1902 Cynthia left her home in Washington DC to live with her brother in Kensington, Maryland. She remained at that residence until her death in May of 1932. Her obituary indicates that she was a member of the District of Columbia Bar and the Democratic Law Enforcement League.  She was a life member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and a past vice-president and charter member of the League of American Pen Women.[89] There is no way of ever knowing what Cynthia’s vision for the Dakotas might have been. She was instrumental in getting constitutional prohibition into the organic laws when South Dakota became a state. Whether she ever came back to the Dakotas after becoming a social outcast in Pierre is another question that is still yet be answered. The one obvious thing that she seemed to want more than anything else, love, seemed to elude her to the very end.

Belva Ann Lockwood

  1. Frances A. Cook Women’s Legal History Professor

Barbara Babcock May 13,1997

[1] . National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume 14, page 10

[2] . Herringshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Biography, page 226

[3] . Cleveland, 1887, See-Saw, page 19

[4] . Personal communications with Jamie Karl, Administrative Director of the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society, in Pontiac Mi.  Cynthia E. Cleveland appears in the 1875 Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory.

[5] . US Census, 1880 Michigan.

[6] . Swartz, 1900: page 9.

[7] . Black Hills Daily Times, 26 May, 1877, page 4, col. 1.

[8] . Black Hills Daily Times, 25 February, 1878, page 4, col. 2.

[9] . Black Hills Daily Times, 15 Sept., 1877, page 4, col. 1.

      Black Hills Daily Times, 10 May, 1879, page 1, col. 6.

[10] . Black Hills Daily Times, 17 May, 1878, page 4, col. 2.

[11] . Black Hills Daily Times, 15 March, 1881, page 2, col. 2.

[12] . Black Hills Daily Times, 07 July, 1881, page 4, col. 4.

[13] . Black Hills Daily Times, 12 July, 1881, page 1, col. 5.

[14] . Black Hills Daily Times, 19 July, 1881, page 4, col. 4.

[15] . Black Hills Daily Times, 23 July, 1881, page 1, col. 6.

[16] . Black Hills Daily Times, 23 July, 1881, page 4, col. 4.

[17] . Black Hills Daily Times, 30 July, 1881, page 4, col. 5.

[18] . Black Hills Daily Times, 01 August, 1881, page 4, col. 3.

[19] . Black Hills Daily Times, 01 August, 1881, page 4, col. 4.

[20] . Black Hills Daily Times, 02 August, 1881, page 4, col. 5.

[21] . Black Hills Daily Times, 03 August, 1881, page 4, col. 6

[22] . Black Hills Daily Times, 03 August, 1881, page 1, col. 5

[23] . Black Hills Daily Times, 02 August, 1881, page 4, col. 4

[24] . Black Hills Daily Times, 04 August, 1881, page 4, col. 3

[25] . Black Hills Daily Times, 05 August, 1881, page 4, col. 3

     Black Hills Daily Times, 06 August, 1881, page 4, col. 3

[26] . Black Hills Daily Times, 06 August, 1881, page 4, col. 6

[27] . Black Hills Daily Times, 08 August, 1881, page 4, col. 4

[28] . Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, DT, 19 August 1881, page 1

[29] . Black Hills Daily Times, 12 August, 1881, page 4, col. 3

[30] . Black Hills Daily Times, 17 August, 1881, page 4, col. 2

[31] . Bismarck Tribune, 2 September, 1881, page 8, col. 1 & 2

[32] . Black Hills Daily Times, 06 September, 1881, page 2, col. 3

[33]. Bismarck Tribune, 2 September, 1881, page 8, col. 3

[34] . Black Hills Daily Times, 04 November, 1881, page 4, col. 5

[35] . Black Hills Daily Times, 09 November, 1881, page 2, col. 2

[36] . Bismarck Tribune, 18 November, 1881.

[37] . Black Hills Daily Times, 28 November, 1881, page 2, col. 2

[38] . Black Hills Daily Times, 02 December, 1881, page 2, col. 2

[39] . Black Hills Daily Times, 30 December, 1881, page 4, col. 5

[40] . Black Hills Daily Times, 10 January, 1882, page 4, col. 2

[41]. Homestead claim of Cynthia E. Cleveland

[42]. Swartz, 1900: page 10

[43]. Evening Free Press, Pierre, DT. 3 June 1884, page 3 col. 2.

[44] . A flyer titled “Rare Bargains in Cynthia E. Cleveland’s Addition to Highmore, Dakota.” This document   is archived at the South Dakota State Historical Society Archives in Pierre, SD.

[45] . Washington Post, 18 February, 1884, page 4

[46] . Mitchell Daily Republican, 04 December 1887 Note: in my research this was the only indication of this activity. And it must be noted that the newspaper running the article was Republican and Cynthia was a dedicated democrat.

[47]. Dakota Journal, Pierre, 7 May, 1884 page 4, col. 2.

[48].  Black Hills Daily Times, 25 October 1882, page 3, col. 2.

[49] . Cleveland, 1887, See-Saw, page 20, Para. 4

[50] . Black Hills Daily Times, 06 April, 1883, page 3, col. 2

[51] . Bismarck Tribune, 20 April, 1883, page 8, col. 1

[52]. Dakota Register, Chamberlain, 19 April 1883 page 2 Col. 1

[53] . Hawk Eye, Burlington, Ia., 10 May 1883, Page 5, Col. 4

[54] . Cleveland, 1887, See-Saw, page 53, Para. 2

[55] . Dakota Journal, Pierre, 3 August, 1883

[56]. Pierre City Directory of July, 1883. Cynthia is listed under the heading of” Attorneys at Law.” Almost all of the lawyers listed on that page lived on Pierre St.  

[57]. It may have been the other way around, that the WCTU severed ties with Cynthia. There seemed to be much concern over her taking on a case that defended someone using or selling liquor. At any rate the WCTU does not seem to play as large a role as does politics from this point on.

After numerous calls to the W.T.C.U. archives in the 2003 and 2004, it has become painfully obvious that the W.T.C.U.  does not wish to provide any information regarding Cynthia’s relationship with that organization. It can only be surmised that they also did not approve of her taking or wining the Adah Williams case

[58]. Dakota Journal, Pierre, DT. 3 August, 1883, page 8 Col. 2  

[59]. Dakota Journal, Pierre, 3 October, 1883 page 1, col. 3

[60]. Dakota Journal, Pierre, 10 October, 1883 page 1, col. 3

[61]. Dakota Journal, Pierre, 24 July, 1884 page 8, col. 2

[62]. Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume II

Dakota Journal, Pierre, 25 Sept., 1884, page1, col.4.

[63]. Traverse City Herald, 24 July, 1884

[64] . Cleveland, 1887, See-Saw, page 63, para. 1.

[65] . Daily Evening Free Press, East Pierre, DT, 13 February 1885

[66]. Cleveland vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group, I am sure that this is one of the things that Cynthia liked about Grover, but she still  felt that he owed her something.

[67]. Mitchell Daily Republican, 05 June, 1886

[68]. Black Hills Daily Times, 05 November 1887, page 1, col. 5.

[69]. Black Hills Daily Times, 10 November 1887, page 2, col. 2.

[70]. Mitchell Daily Republican, 04 December, 1887

[71]. Atchison Daily Globe, 09 November, 1887

[72]. Cleveland, 1887, See-Saw, page 67

[73]. This is also a subject that was on the mind of President Cleveland,  he ordered the investigation of western lands that the railroads held by Government grant. He forced them to return 81,000,000 acres. He also signed the Interstate Commerce Act, the first law attempting Federal regulation of the railroads.

[74] Atchison Daily Globe, Atchison, Kansas, 12 March 1888, page 2, col. 1

[75]. Mitchell Daily Republican, 2 November 1887, page 1 col. 2

[76] . Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI 8 January 1888 page 1, col. 5

[77]. Mitchell Daily Republican, 21 February 1890, page 1 col. 3

[78] . Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, 12 May 1890, page 6, col.3.

[79]. Washington, DC. City Directory, 1890.

[80]. Mitchell Daily Republican, 11 March 1890, page 1 col. 3

[81]. Bismarck Tribune, 5 February, 1892, page 5, col. 1

[82]. Stevens Point Gazette, Stevens Point, Wis., 30 October 1895, page 9 col. 2

[83]. Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, 24 October 1895, page 5 col. 4

[84]. Washington Post, 16 April 1906, page 11, col. 5

[85].  Washington Post, 22 January 1916

     Washington Post, 25 February 1917        

[86] . Washington Post, 3 September 1911

[87] . Personal Conversation on 20 January 2004, with Mr. Theodros Abebe, Assistant Archivist at Howard University, Washington DC

[88]. Phone conversation on 26 January 2004, with Judy Lem-Sharp, Treasury Department Librarian. Her reference was the “Official Registry of the United States.”

[89] . Washington Post, Washington, DC,  11 March, 1932