“You are – I say it without a qualm – our star contributing editor. You have given us the most of any one on our list – and all good too.” When the editor of The Woman Citizen, Virginia Roderick, wrote this to University of Wyoming Professor Grace Raymond Hebard in 1922, she could only speculate on the treasure trove of what would become 87 boxes, or 44.3 cubic feet, of archival material—Hebard’s life work.
For the last several years I have been finding and sharing the stories I discover in Hebard’s collection in communities across Wyoming. In 1922, the same year Roderick reached out to thank Hebard, two Wyoming towns elected women to serve as mayor and on their town councils. As a historian wanting to know more about their stories, I can’t help but to feel the same gratitude Roderick expressed to Hebard. Hebard wrote to the elected women to both congratulate them and ask for their motivations in seeking office. The lively correspondence between Hebard and Cokeville’s mayor, Ethel Stoner, contains Stoner’s account of her arrest on a charge of assault and battery. Using Hebard’s collection at the AHC as my starting point, I was able to publish an article on Ethel Stoner in February 2023 in WyoHistory.org.
In Hebard’s papers, you can find questions she sent to another female mayor, Gertrude Kirby, who served in Moorcroft, Wyoming. Hebard sent these questions at the end of Kirby’s year in office.
- Why did you and your two women Councilmen run for office?
- Did you have some special measure that you expected to put through?
- Had the social conditions in Moorcroft been such that you felt that a woman as Mayor might bring about desired results?
- Did you have much campaigning to do to be elected?
- What was your vote and what vote against you?
- How did the town of Moorcroft and the other members of your Council treat the idea of a woman being Mayor?
- Were you able to put across your desired projects?
- Why did you not run for a second term of office?
You can read some of Gertrude Kirby’s responses to Hebard’s questionnaire in Hebard’s file on Moorcroft, which the AHC has digitized.
Since her death in 1936, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard has had her credentials questioned, her integrity as a historian tarnished, and unflattering egotism assigned to her motivations. As a result, one of the women who helped to shape the character and build the educational infrastructure of Wyoming from territorial days into statehood, is largely unknown and forgotten across the state. Having only read the caricaturized version of her found in the secondary sources and then learning she changed the original design of the Wyoming State Flag, I first approached her archival records with the question, “Just who did this woman think she was?”
It turns out, Wyoming wouldn’t have our state flag without the Grace Raymond Hebard I have encountered so far. She was both a deeply patriotic woman and the first historian to argue that woman “suffrage came to Wyoming as a by-product of the Civil War.” She invested her own money in the preservation and memorialization of history across the state. In letters with one of the last living soldiers of the Wagon Box Fight, Hebard agreed to send money for his unpublished manuscript of the fight, first explaining that she would be personally purchasing it and not the state. According to her letter, the state had set aside $500 for two years work and that summer alone she had spent more than that “from my own pocketbook.” Thanks to Hebard’s efforts to gather testimony and her willingness to personally finance the work, three different survivors of the fight came to Wyoming to help locate the original site, which was then marked by the state.
Hebard didn’t just gather testimony of western expansion and territorial days from former U.S. soldiers—she also gathered testimony from the Shoshone nation, and she kept a record of the activities of women and their accomplishments. Her efforts to gather and preserve the early stories of our state from multiple, often underrepresented perspectives make her archival collection at the AHC the treasure trove that it is. I say thank you, Dr. Hebard, for all that you have given us historians today!
Post contributed by Kylie McCormick, owner of KLM Wyoming Historian and Assistant Editor of WyoHistory.org, a program of the Wyoming Historical Society.
- June 3, 1922, Letter from Virginia Roderick to Grace Raymond Hebard (GRH), Box 21, Folder 8, GRH papers, AHC, University of Wyoming (UW).
- Letter from GRH to Gertrude Kirby, Box 29, Folder 7, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
- November 11, 1919, Speech delivered by GRH, Box 21, Folder 6, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
- Oct. 12, 1915, Letter from GRH to Samuel S. Gibson, Box 36, Folder 15, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
There is no doubt that history shows Grace Raymond Hebard to be a forceful, persistent, and to some degree successful champion of women’s suffrage in Wyoming during the formative years of statehood. But there is a dark side to her personality and as you pointed out, to her reputation that cannot be dismissed no matter how favorably her contributions may be revealed. One cannot ignore her collaborations with legislators and university trustees to unjustifiably sully the reputations of three UW presidents, and without conscience slant the historical record of the Shoshonean woman, Sacajawea (sic), to her way of thinking. Certainly you may wonder if my opinions might be just as predisposed Miss Hebard, and possibly so. Therefore I would be happy to share with you my justifications and perspectives on a topic that I have explored ever since I was a student of professor T. A. Larson and over the years interfaced with persons on the Wind River Reservation, and here in Lander. Respectfully yours, Jack States
Thanks for your thoughtful response to Kylie McCormick’s post. I’ll forward your response to her.
We received a response from Kylie McCormick on March 3, 2023, which we are presenting here:
“I also once looked into one of the scandals that caused both a University of Wyoming president to step down and Dr. Hebard to resign as the secretary to the Board of Trustees and I have not yet found evidence of Hebard slandering anyone publicly in the newspapers, during meetings of the Board of Trustees, or privately in her correspondence. However, I did find quite a bit of slander against her in the newspapers that practically called for her to die. In 1907, the governor appointed investigators who were hostile to Dr. Hebard. One of them wrote to Governor B.B. Brooks, “Is she a bigger man than the President of the University?” (June 27, 1907 Letter from Charles F. Maurer to B.B. Brooks, Incoming Correspondence J-M 1907, Box 3-16, Governor Bryant B. Brooks Papers, Wyoming State Archives)
He responded, “She is not a better man than the president of the University, but there is this to be considered: Miss Hebard is clever, and, in my judgment, has more tact than all the balance of the University coterie, and it is possible that, by reason of these conditions, exercises, indirectly, a powerful influence. I do say, however, that she does do this.” (July 1, 1907 Letter from Governor B.B. Brooks to Charles E. Morton; Outgoing Correspondence July-September 1907, Box 3-16, Governor Bryant B. Brooks Papers, Wyoming State Archives)
Dr. Hebard was an incredibly powerful and influential woman and there were men during her lifetime who took issue with the way she used her power. It is interesting to me that the hostile investigators, who approached the scandal with an obvious bias against Hebard, concluded with this:
“We find that the influence of the Secretary, wherever exercised, has been altogether wholesome and beneficial; that no attempt is made by said Secretary to usurp the powers of any other officer of the University; and that no undue influence is sought to be exerted by her in the various departments of the University. From the evidence presented to the commission, it appears that the Secretary has at all times had the interest of the institution at heart, and has constantly and zealously labored for the promotion and upbuilding of the University.” (Report of Investigation recorded in August 30, 1907 Board of Trustees Minutes)
The Laramie Republican reported, “Here is certainly a flagrant case of public service rewarded by ingratitude of the grossest kind.” (Laramie Republican (Weekly ed.) no. 49 August 01, 1907, page 4) Still, the public attacks against Hebard continued until she forced the Board of Trustees to accept her resignation in 1908. You can read about my investigation into the 1907-1908 scandal here: https://kyliethehistorian.com/2020/04/22/manhandled-by-history-the-1907-1908-university-scandal/.
In my interpretation of the sources, Dr. Hebard faced and overcame quite a bit of slander during her lifetime. She weathered it privately, speaking only publicly on the matter during investigations. There were clashes between the Board of Trustees and the President of the University that I believe would have happened regardless of who filled those roles due to the power that the Board exercised over the University in its early days. Were the reputations of the University Presidents really sullied or did they step down and publicly and privately complain that they did so because they did not like that they had to share their power with a woman?
Since I started researching in her files at the American Heritage Center, the Hebard I have discovered is not the same one presented in T.A. Larson’s books or articles, nor in her only published biography by Mike Mackey. I must admit that like the 1907 investigators, I started my research prejudiced against Hebard.
I am just now starting my research into her work on Sacajewea and Chief Washakie. While I have a much more open mind than I did when I first started working on her, I also made sure to start my investigation with Blanche Schroer’s papers at the AHC as well. Blanche also took testimony from the Shoshone and argued against Hebard’s Sacajewea theory.
I would love to visit more with you and hear some stories about T.A. Larson, if you would be willing to share!”