Bernice S. Pyke

From Ohio History Central

In 1920, a sufficient number of states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment granted women the right to vote. Immediately upon receiving this right, some women began to pursue elected office. Even before the Nineteenth Amendment's approval, a few women had already attained success in the political sphere. One such woman was Bernice Secrest Pyke. From 1918 to 1931, Pyke, a teacher, served on the Lakewood Schools Board of Education in Cleveland, Ohio. Pyke also was a member of the Cleveland mayor's cabinet. She served as the welfare director of Cleveland from 1923 to 1933.

In 1920, Pyke was the first woman appointed to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In 1932, the Democratic Party even permitted Pyke to address the party's national convention. At the convention, Pyke cautioned her fellow Democrats about nominating Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the party's candidate for the U.S. presidency. In a very professional manner, Pyke insinuated that Roosevelt and his supporters were scheming and could not be trusted. Despite Pyke's speech, Roosevelt won the Democratic Party's nomination and the presidency. Roosevelt apparently did not hold any negative feelings towards Pyke, as he appointed her as a director of customs collection for Ohio. She held this position for approximately twenty years. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower both waved the federal government's mandatory retirement age for Pyke in Executive Orders.

Pyke's political career was impressive, especially considering when it occurred. Few women were able to attain political office in the early 1900s before women received the right to vote. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment's ratification, most women who won election to political office initially served at the city level as city council members or on local school boards. As the twentieth century continued, women, including Ohioans like Pyke, began to win election to or receive appointments to offices at all levels of government.

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