Estelle Reel Day

In recognition of Estelle Reel, the first woman elected and to hold the office of state superintendent of public instruction in Wyoming and the second woman elected and to hold a statewide office in the United States, January 7 of each year is designated as “Estelle Reel Day.” The day shall be appropriately observed in the public schools of the state, by state and local government and by organizations within the state.

So states House Bill 108, which was passed by the Wyoming Legislature on February 27, 2018.

According to an article in WyoHistory.org, Estelle Reel came to Wyoming in 1886 to be a teacher in Cheyenne after receiving schooling in Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago.

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This photo of Reel found in the American Heritage Center’s photo files has a handwritten notation on the back written by historian, suffragette, and UW Professor Grace Raymond Hebard regarding Reel’s accomplishments.

Four years later, she campaigned for school superintendent of Laramie County, Wyoming. Brad Slack wrote in his Wyoming Roundup column of June 10, 1953, that appeared in the Wyoming State Tribune:

They told her in the beginning, when Laramie County politicos first considered [Reel] as a candidate for county school superintendent, that she would have to buck a stigma concerning her reputation. It was said Miss Reel “sassed” her school board. What she had really done was to tell them they could not dictate what church she went to, where she bought her clothes or where she lived and boarded. She continued to live in a hotel in the days when young women of her profession were not considered quite correct unless they went to an approved board school.

The public defense of herself played well with voters, who elected her school superintendent of Laramie County by a wide margin in 1890. She was re-elected two years later, and then set her sights on becoming the state superintendent, a position she won in 1894.

Reform was her watchword. Once she was state superintendent in Wyoming, she sought to raise the salaries of women teachers to a point commensurate with me. Although she didn’t win a full victory, she continued to cry “equal pay for equal work.” She also sought better treatment for prison inmates and was the first to insist on libraries and useful work for inmates.

By 1896, she had made a national name for herself. She had championed Republican William McKinley in Wyoming and assisted in his election. Her reward was the first major political job in the federal government for a women, that of national superintendent of Indian schools.

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According to WyoHistory.org, Reel spent 17 of her first 26 months in the field, traveling more than 41,000 miles to visit 49 Indian schools. Photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives.

Reel was a strong advocate of a standardized curriculum for Indian schools that emphasized vocational training. No amount of book learning, she felt, could result in economic independence for Indian people. She wrote a textbook, A Course of Study for the Indian Schools of the United States—Industrial and Literary that focused on the “dignity of labor,” one of her favorite phrases. Others asserted that by limiting education to manual training the educators were condemning Indian people to permanent inequality.

Although the federal job was highly demanding, Reel stayed with it until she resigned in 1910 to marry Cort Meyer, a Toppenish, Washington, rancher and farmer. Reel never again ran for public office, and she died in 1959 at the age of 97.

This entry was posted in American Indian history, Uncategorized, Western history, women's history, Wyoming history and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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