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DAKOTA IMAGE | Vera C. Bushfield

DAKOTA IMAGE | Vera C. Bushfield

Vera Cahalan Bushfield, former South Dakota first lady, went on to fill out the term of her husband in the United States Senate, becoming the second woman in the state’s history to serve in the post.

Vera Sara Cahalan was born in Miller, South Dakota, on 9 August 1889 to Francis and Mary Conners Cahalan. She grew up in a family of four children, attending the Miller public schools and graduating in 1912 from the University of Wisconsin–Stout with a degree in domestic science. That same year, she married Harlan J. Bushfield, also from Miller. The couple eventually had three children. Vera Bushfield later attended Dakota Wesleyan University and the University of Minnesota.

In 1938, voters elected Harlan Bushfield, an attorney and Republican Party official, governor of South Dakota. As the state’s first lady during his two terms (1939–1943), Vera Bushfield became a sought-after speaker and presided over numerous official functions, including the double christening of the battleship USS South Dakota in Camden, New Jersey, in 1941.

The Bushfields became nationally recognized when Harlan’s name was placed in nomination as a presidential candidate at the 1940 Republican National Convention. While the nomination went to Wendell Wilkie, Harlan Bushfield went on to win South Dakota’s seat in the United States Senate in 1942. When he died near the end of his term in 1948, Governor George T. Mickelson appointed Vera, who shared her husband’s small-government political views, to serve the months remaining in his term. She never went to Washington, D.C., but addressed constituent concerns from a staffed office in Pierre. Appointed on 6 October 1948, she resigned on 28 December, giving senator-elect Karl E. Mundt a seniority advantage.

During her time in the political spotlight, Vera Bushfield lent her voice to women’s and children’s issues. She served on the child welfare commissions for both Hand County and the state of South Dakota and was a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO), Order of the Eastern Star, and other organizations.

Vera Bushfield died on 16 April 1976 in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is interred at the Grand Army of the Republic cemetery in Miller.