Wyoming is unique among the states that form our nation, in granting women the right to vote in 1869. The territory of Wyoming paved the way for the rest of the country, not only by being the first to allow women to vote but eventually allowing women to hold public office. The letter granting women the right of suffrage was signed December 10, 1869 by the first governor of the Wyoming Territory, John A. Campbell.
From the Grace Raymond Hebard papers, Collection #400008, Box 21, Folder 6, American Heritage Center.
Publicity and embarrassment appear to have been motivators for legislator and uneducated saloon keeper, William Bright, to introduce the bill giving women voting rights. Many speculated that the new law may encourage women to move out west. Some arguments were racially motivated and even considered humorous, suggesting the entire issue was a joke. There were also those who thought John Campbell would never sign off on the idea of women voting, for fear he would look ridiculous.
After the tumultuous political climate between the Democrats, who were not inclined to pursue rights for blacks, and the Republicans who chose to oppose their view, the dust of the controversy settled around the feet of women’s rights. Resolutions, laws, and bills were introduced by the newly elected all-Democratic Wyoming legislature. Many passed, including woman’s suffrage, thus ensuring women had rights such as sitting inside the room with the lawmakers, equal pay for school teachers, and owning property.
Although the intent in the beginning was blurry at best, the accomplishment is real and clear. This progressive evolution indicates that eventually, every right and equality offered in Wyoming and in this nation will be inclusive of women.
Firsts for women in Wyoming:
- Louisa Swain – first woman to cast a vote in a public election (1869), Laramie.
- Esther Hobart Morris – first woman Justice of the Peace (1870), South Pass City.
- First all-woman jury (1870), Laramie
- Mary Atkinson – first women bailiff in the world (1870), Albany County.
- Estelle R. Meyer – first woman statewide elected official [Superintendent of Public Instruction] (1894).
- City of Jackson – first town in U. S. governed by women: mayor, town council and marshal (1920).
- Nellie Tayloe Ross – first woman governor in U. S. (1925).
- Minnie Mitchel – first woman state treasurer (1953).
- Wanda Batna – first woman commissioned officer in the Wyoming National Guard (1973).
- Marilyn S. Kite – first woman justice on the Wyoming Supreme Court (2000) and later first woman Chief Justice (2010).
- Dr. Laurie Nichols, first woman president of the University of Wyoming (2015).
For additional information and primary source material about woman’s suffrage, including original documents and artifacts, please visit and view the collections at the American Heritage Center, including the collections highlighted below:
John Stephen and Frances Jennings Casement papers, #308: Correspondence with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Equal Rights organizations, National American Woman Suffrage Association, petitions relating to the creation of the Wyoming Territory.
Carey Family papers, #1212: Speeches of Joseph M. Carey and his son Robert Carey (both were Wyoming governors and senators); correspondence, including with Susan B. Anthony and Wyoming’s U.S. Senator Francis E. Warren; and subject files regarding woman’s suffrage.
T.A. Larson papers, #400029: UW history professor, Wyoming State representative, and the author of History of Wyoming (1965, 1990). There is material on woman’s suffrage throughout his papers.
Reginald Wright Kauffman papers, #9598: Author, editor, journalist, and supporter of women’s rights. Kauffman represented the U. S. at the first Congress of Men’s Societies for Women’s Suffrage in 1912. He promoted women’s suffrage throughout Europe and Africa.
League of Women’s Voters of Wyoming records, #10437: Created in 1920 at the National American Woman Suffrage Association to educate women on use of their voting power.
Grace Robinson papers, #6941: Includes ten years of National Women’s Suffrage manuscripts (1930).
Wilma Soss papers, #10249: Stockholder rights activist, president/chair/founder of the Federation of Women’s Shareholders in American Business (1947). Soss was a leader in women’s economic suffrage movement, and one of the first women public relations agents.
– Submitted by Vicki Glantz, Archives Aide, Reference Department, American Heritage Center