(WSA Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly cover showing women voting in Cheyenne, Wyoming, November 24, 1888)
Suffrage is defined as the right to vote in elections. In 1869, Wyoming became the first state or territory in the nation to grant suffrage to women on equal footing with men, as well as the rights to hold public office, own and inherit property, and the guardianship of minor children.
The territorial legislature attempted to repeal the act in 1871, but Governor John Campbell vetoed the bill. The state constitutional convention debated the inclusion of women's suffrage in 1889 and incorporated it as universal suffrage in Article 6 of the state constitution, making Wyoming the first state to guarantee equal suffrage regardless of gender in the nation.
This guide explores the topic of women's suffrage in Wyoming and helps answer questions like:
Who was the first woman to...?
What legislation was passed?
Could women of color vote?
How many women were eligible to vote?
Who are some of the prominent women in Wyoming's political and legal history?
1st State or Territory to Grant Universal Suffrage: In 1869, the first Wyoming Territorial Assembly passed the Women's Suffrage Act granting women the right to vote and hold public office in the territory, putting them on equal footing with men. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, this right was written into Article 6 of the new constitution ensuring universal suffrage.
1st Female Justice of the Peace in the US: Esther Hobart Morris, appointed February 17, 1870 in South Pass City. Her first act after taking office was to charge her predecessor for failing to hand over the court's records to her. She dropped the charges due to her conflict of interest as both plaintiff and judge but kept her own docket book during her term.
1st Women to Serve on a Jury in the US: Laramie, Grand Jury sworn in on March 7, 1870. Women were also sworn in on a Petit Jury in Laramie in April 1870.
1st Female Bailiff in the US: Martha Symons Boies Atkinson appointed to see to the needs of the first female jurors, 1870 in Laramie.
1st General Election in Which Women Voted: September 6, 1870. Louisa Swain of Laramie cast the first documented vote by a woman in Wyoming. Augusta C. Howe of Cheyenne is said to have been the first in Cheyenne, following Swain by 30 minutes.
1st Presidential Election in Which Women Voted: 1892, Wyoming was the only state with women's suffrage during that election.
1st Woman Elected to a State-wide Office in Wyoming: Estelle Reel was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1894, the second in the nation following Laura J. Eisenhuth of North Dakota's election in 1892. Reel was the second individual to hold the office in Wyoming .
1st Female Legislator in Wyoming: Mary Godat Bellamy, 1910.
1st Female Mayor in Wyoming: Susan Wissler, Dayton, elected 1911.
1st Town Governed by Women: Dubbed the "petticoat government" by the press, the town of Jackson elected 3 councilwomen, a female town marshal and a female mayor in 1920. Several of the women were reelected.
1st Female Governor in the US: Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected Governor on November 5, 1924. Although she and Ma Ferguson of Texas were elected on the same day, Ross was inaugurated on January 5, 1925, two weeks before Ferguson, and thus holds the title. Ross' husband, Governor William B. Ross, had passed away suddenly almost exactly one month before she was elected. She did not campaign for herself leading up to the election as she was still in mourning and wore black for much of her term. She ran for re-election in 1926, but narrowly lost to Frank Emerson.
1st Woman Elected to the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Business Council: Irene Kinnear Meade, 1930.
1st Female State Senator: Dora McGrath of Hot Springs County, 1931.
1st Woman Elected to the Northern Arapaho Tribal Business Council: Nellie Scott, 1937.
1st Mixed Jury After Statehood: Sweetwater County, May 8, 1950. According to Cora Beach’s Women of Wyoming, Volume I, just after the selection of the 1st female jurors in 1870, the lawyers and pundits began to push for a literal reading of the law describing jury qualifications. It had been passed prior to the act granting women’s suffrage and thus specified that the jurors be male. As no one pushed to change the law, the supreme court did not provide a definitive decision nor was the law changed by the legislature until 1949. The first mixed jury in Wyoming since statehood, and thus the 1st female jurors in 80 years, sat the next year, on May 8, 1950.
1st Female State Treasurer: Minnie Mitchell, appointed to fill the unexpired term of her husband, J.R. Mitchell, 1953.
1st Female State Auditor: Minnie Mitchell, 1955
1st Woman Appointed to the Attorney's General Staff: Ellen Crowley, 1956.
1st Female Wyoming Secretary of State: Thyra Thomson, 1963.
1st Female U.S. Congresswoman to represent Wyoming: Barbara Cubin, 1995.
1st Female Wyoming Supreme Court Justice: Justice Marilyn Stebner Kite, 2000. Justice Kite also became the court's first female Chief Justice in 2010.
1st Judicial District Judged Entirely by Women: Laramie County Circuit Court, 2009. Hon. Denise Nau, Hon. Roberta Coates, Hon. Catherine R. Rogers.
1st Female President of the University of Wyoming: Laurie Nichols, 2015
1st female US Army Infantry NCO: Wyoming National Guard Sgt. Shelby Atkins, 2016
Wyoming State Archives
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