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Women's Suffrage in Wyoming: Women in Law

Since 1869, Wyoming's women have been guaranteed suffrage: the right to vote in elections and hold public office. They were the first in the nation to be granted this right. Learn more in this guide about women's suffrage in the state.

Women in Law

(WSA Sub Neg 22065, Albany County courtroom interior, 1886)

Wyoming's women have been involved in executing the state's laws since 1870. Here are a few of the many notable women in Wyoming's legal history.

Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard

 

(WSA Sub Neg 1530)

Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard of Laramie was the first woman admitted to practice law in Wyoming on December 22, 1914. She had been admitted to practice before the district court in Laramie on November 18, 1898. 

Hebard was also a professor at the University of Wyoming,  a University trustee 1891-1903. She was also a prolific collector and author of pieces on Wyoming history, including a book on Sacagawea and her burial on the Wind River Reservation. 


Resources

Grace McDonald Phillips

Phillips of Newcastle and Casper was the 1st woman to practice law in Wyoming. She was admitted to the Wyoming Bar on April 19, 1920. Phillips held a law degree from the University of Washington. 

Laura Bicknell Harris

Harris, of Casper, was the 1st woman to argue a case before the Wyoming Supreme Court in 1927. 

Ellen Crowley Suyematsu

State Librarian 1949-1951

Assistant Wyoming Attorney General 1955-1959

Crowley was the first woman appointed to the position in Wyoming.

Law Clerk to U.S. District Judge

Judge's first law clerk and first female law clerk in the U.S. District Courts in Wyoming.

Wyoming House of Representatives 1973-1987

President of the Laramie County Bar Association 1974-1975

Crowley was also active in private practice starting in 1953. Her husband, Tosh Suyematsu, was also a lawyer, judge and US District Attorney in Wyoming. 

Esther Hobart Morris

(WSA Sub Neg 2666)

Justice of the Peace, South Pass City, Wyoming, 1870 

Morris holds the distinction of being the first woman in the nation to serve as Justice of the Peace. 

Morris is known as the "Mother of Women's Suffrage in Wyoming," a title conferred by her son, newspaper editor E.A. Slack. The story goes that she invited both of Sweetwater County's legislative candidates to her home and secured promises from both that they would introduce an act granting women's suffrage during the first Territorial Assembly. This became known as "Esther's tea party", though later it was said to be a dinner. William H. Bright won the election and did indeed introduce what became known as the Women's Suffrage Act. This story is suspect as very few primary sources exist to support it. Morris herself did not take credit for the legislation. Read more about the story on our Wyoming Suffragists page.


Resources

  • Justice of the Peace docket book, Carter County, RG1014, Wyoming State Archives.
  • Ewig, Rick.  "Did She Do That? Examining Esther Hobart Morris' Role in the Passage of the Suffrage Act, " Annals of Wyoming vol. 78 (Winter 2006), 26-34.
  • H95-19, Frances "Franky" McQuigg Stewart Papers, Wyoming State Archives. This collection contains letters from Morris and her sons to family members between 1862-1908.

Justice Marilyn Stebner Kite

Wyoming Supreme Court 2000-2015

Chief Justice 2010-2014

Justice Kite was the 1st woman appointed to the Wyoming Supreme Court and the 1st woman to lead them as chief justice. 


Resources

Jury Service

The first jury to contain women was a grand jury in Laramie that sat for a three week court term starting in March 1870, hearing several cases. This also necessitated the first female bailiff, Eliza Stewart Boyd as a man couldn't very well see to the needs of a group of women. In April 1870, a petit jury also including women was called in Laramie. 

(WSA H53-42, First mixed jury with women in Wyoming since statehood, May 8, 1950)

According to Cora Beach’s Women of Wyoming, Volume I, it was about this time that the lawyers and pundits began to push for a literal reading of the statue describing jury qualifications. The legislation had been passed prior to the act granting women’s suffrage and thus specified that the jurors be men. As no one pushed to change the law, the Wyoming Supreme Court did not provide a definitive decision, nor was the law changed by the legislature until 1949 (1949 HEA 58). The first mixed jury in the State of Wyoming, and thus the first female jurors in 80 years, sat the next year on May 8, 1950.


Additional Resources

  • Interview with Louise Spinner Graff by Bill Barton, 1975, Wyoming State Archives OH-281. Audio & Transcript

 

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