Elizabeth Orpha Sampson Hoyt, Notable Woman of the West

Born December 7, 1828 in Athens, Ohio to an adventurous father and a pragmatic mother, Elizabeth Sampson early on displayed qualities of both parents.

A letter to Grace Raymond Hebard from Elizabeth’s son Kepler tells a delightful story from his mother’s youth. He writes that while a young girl, Elizabeth ran away from home and ended up near the property of an astrologer in the Cincinnati area. The astrologer and his wife befriended her and proceeded to chat with her about gardening, horoscopes and fortune telling. This incident, complete with psychic predictions for the future, stayed with Elizabeth her entire life. She preferred dealing on a personal level with the spiritual world rather than seek involvement or association with organized churches, mediums and such.

By the age of 10, Elizabeth had developed such a keen sense of curiosity and an, “…unusual interest in philosophy…” that she was allowed, “…special admission to the class in mental philosophy, taught by President William H. McGuffey of the Ohio University, Athens.”* She went on to study Greek and, by the age of 12, was a regular contributor of verse to the press in her early teens. While still in her youth, she went on to teach philosophy at the Female Seminary in Worthington, Ohio.

Because of her deep love of children, Elizabeth became an avid writer of children’s stories and poems.  One of nine children, she endured while most of her siblings died during early childhood. Elizabeth’s exceptional published works earned her more compensation than her peers and were often considered for illustration. Drawn from her own life, her insightful prose was broad to include historical, romantic, political, sociological, and philosophical subject matter. Many of Elizabeth’s published poems appear in Poets and Poetry of the West by William Coggeshall, published in 1864.


Photo of Elizabeth Hoyt from Women of Wyoming compiled by Cora Beach and published in 1927. A copy of the book can be found in the American Heritage Center’s Toppan Rare Books Library

Teaching, in Elizabeth’s opinion, was second only to spiritual leadership. Nevertheless, she was a passionate advocate for many issues. Near to her heart were public libraries, all things of a patriotic nature, religious liberty, and the impoverished. She was particularly interested in “…birth control, in women’s higher education, in equal suffrage, and in the general advancement of her sex.”** Although, she considered herself a ‘natural realist’ in all things philosophical, according to Cora Beach, compiler of Women of Wyoming (1927), Elizabeth’s “…life was preeminently one of cheerful sacrifice” (p. 61).

Elizabeth arrived in Wyoming with her husband Dr. John W. Hoyt when he was appointed Wyoming’s Territorial Governor in 1878. He served as governor until 1882. Five years later, John Hoyt became UW’s first president, serving from 1887 to 1890. Elizabeth had married John at the age of 26, already having lived a selfless and dutiful life that was marked by perseverance. Elizabeth’s support and encouragement of her husband was renowned and she was regularly by his side at public events.

Her academic credentials included degrees in philosophy and psychology, which opened additional doors later in her life. From 1887 through 1891, she taught as Professor of Psychology and Moral Philosophy as seen in the UW circular of General Information from 1890-1891 as “Mrs. E. O. Sampson Hoyt, Ph.D., Lecturer”.


Course Circular 1890-91, UW Presidents Collection, #510000, Box 1, UW American Heritage Center

After John Hoyt left the UW presidency in 1890, he and Elizabeth moved back east to the Washington D.C. area where she kept busy as an active member of the Society for Philosophical Inquiry.

Toward the end of her life, she often recalled lines from a favorite essay by naturalist, John Burroughs:

 I live my life with even pace,

I make no haste, I hail delays;

I stand amid the eternal ways,

And what is mine will know my face.

  – Submitted by Vicki Glantz, UW American Heritage Center Reference Dept.

*Women of Wyoming, p.59

**Women of Wyoming, page 62

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