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Wyoming Women’s Suffrage: Wyoming, the Equality State

Posted By Charlene Sabini, PP, CLP, Thursday, October 18, 2018
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2018

It wasn’t all that distant in America’s past that women were not allowed to vote in elections equally with their male counterparts. It’s easy nowadays to take the women’s vote for granted without being aware of how it came to be in this country. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, of course, finally allowed for women’s suffrage in 1920 and yet that was only 98 years ago. “Women in the United States had fought for suffrage since the time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency in the 1820s. Before the Civil War, women were allowed limited voting in a few states.”1 The state of New Jersey, for example, permitted women to vote before their state’s constitution outlawed it (!) in 1844. The idea that women deserved the same rights as men had been growing steadily in the United States since the 1840s—especially in the Western states. For a long time, many people who supported the abolition of slavery also supported women’s rights.2

Interestingly, the following states and territories gave women full or partial suffrage before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920:


Wyoming (1869), Utah (1896), Colorado (1893), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Oregon (1912), Arizona (1912), Kansas (1912), Alaska (1913), Illinois (1913), North Dakota (1917), Indiana (1919), Nebraska (1917), Michigan (1918), Arkansas (1917), New York (1917), South Dakota (1918), and Oklahoma (1918).3

 

However, note that Wyoming was the first territorial legislature to officially place women’s suffrage into its laws in 1869 with almost no controversy or discussion. The bill was introduced by William H. Bright, President of the Council of the Wyoming Territorial legislature (and a saloonkeeper from South Pass City, a frontier mining town nearly as big as Cheyenne, WY, at the time). Early opinions of the bill viewed it as a bit of a joke by many, yet it was noted that it might well draw more women into Wyoming to balance the dominant male population of that time. That law reads:

 
Female Suffrage - Chapter 31

 
An Act to Grant to the Women of Wyoming Territory the Right of Suffrage, and to Hold Office
Be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Wyoming:
Sec. 1. That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this territory, may at every election to be holden under the laws thereof, cast her vote. And her rights to the elective franchise and to hold office shall be the same under the election laws of the territory, as those of electors.
Sec. 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
(Approved, December 10, 1869.)


So, on September 6, 1870, Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming, became the first woman to cast a vote in a general election. American social reformer and women's rights activist, Susan B. Anthony, was predictably delighted with all of this. Approximately one thousand women were eligible to vote in Wyoming, and most of them turned out to vote.

Wyoming’s woman suffrage bill graciously gave women the right to vote but also gave them the right to sit on juries and to run for political office. The law was not without resistance in some quarters but prevailed in the end. In fact, “1870 is when Esther Hobart Morris became the first woman to hold public office as a justice of the peace in South Pass City.”4  The U.S Congress even attempted to remove the suffrage clause from Wyoming’s charter, but Wyoming retaliated by threatening to refuse to become a state should that occur. Wyoming’s legislature firmly declared, “We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women!” In 1890, Wyoming became the 44th state and the first state to boast full voting rights for its women. 

On May 22, 2018, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation designated a 19-mile stretch of Highway 28 in Fremont County as the "Wyoming Women's Suffrage Pathway." Secretary Buchanan said the location of the marker, a few miles from South Pass City, is exceptional because of the history in that community.5 

In 2019, the state of Wyoming will mark and celebrate the 150th anniversary of women's suffrage in the state. To this day, the ladies of Wyoming continue a strong legacy of female empowerment and leadership.

 


  1. Mary Schons, Friday, January 21, 2011, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/woman-suffrage/
  2. Tom Rea, Published: November 8, 2014, https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/right-choice-wrong-reasons-wyoming-women-win-right-vote
  3. Schons, Ibid.
  4. Caroline Ballard, May 18, 2018, http://www.wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/highway-designated-wyoming-womens-suffrage-pathway#stream/0
  5. Ibid.
     

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