Wyoming’s Grand Old Man Joseph Carey

Many people who have visited Wyoming’s capitol city at one time or another have probably driven on Carey Avenue. This well-traveled thoroughfare goes through the heart of Cheyenne on the west side of the State Capitol. But from where does the prominence of the Carey name originate?

It all began with Joseph Maull Carey. Born in Delaware on January 19, 1845, Carey came to Wyoming Territory in 1869. Other members of his family found their way to Wyoming not long after. Shortly after his arrival, Carey was appointed the first United States Attorney for the newly-organized territory. He would go on to serve as an associate justice of the Wyoming Territorial Supreme Court from 1872 to 1876, after which he retired from the judiciary.

Joseph Carey was just a young man of 24 years of age when he arrived in Wyoming Territory. And only 31 when he retired from the judiciary. And that was just the beginning of his career. Photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives (WSA Sub Neg 15797).

On September 27, 1877, Joseph Carey married Louisa David in Cheyenne. They had two sons, Robert Davis and Charles David. Robert followed in his father’s footsteps into Wyoming’s governorship and the U.S. Congress. Robert Carey served as governor of Wyoming from 1919 to 1923. He was elected in 1930 to fill out the remainder of Francis E. Warren’s U.S. Senate term. Warren died in November 1929 at the age of 85. Robert served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming until his death in 1937.

Robert Carey among a group of redoubtable Wyoming historical figures, ca. 1925. Shown (l-r) are U.S. Senator Francis E. Warren, Wyoming Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross, former Wyoming Governor Robert Carey, and U.S. Senator John B. Kendrick. Box 194, John B. Kendrick papers, Collection No. 341, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

From 1885 to 1891, Joseph Carey served as the Wyoming territorial delegate to Congress. He introduced and shepherded the bill through Congress that would eventually create the State of Wyoming. The State’s admission to the Union was controversial. Wyoming had granted women the right to vote in 1869, while the U.S. had not yet granted this right. Wyoming was ultimately granted admission with its women’s suffrage intact on July 10, 1890. Suffragists sought to leverage Wyoming’s admission to gain women’s right to vote nationwide. Among them was prominent suffragist Susan B. Anthony. She referred to Carey as, “the father of Wyoming’s freedom for women.…” in her invitation to him to speak at a convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1893. An invitation from Anthony dated May 24, 1894, asked Carey to address the New York Constitutional Convention in support of women’s suffrage.  She suggested that Carey’s words could encourage convention delegates to support women’s suffrage. In spite of his and suffragists’ effort, it would be another 23 years before women in New York enjoyed the right to vote and 26 years before women in the United States were granted that right via the 19th Amendment.

Letter from Susan B. Anthony to Joseph M. Carey dated December 2, 1893. Anthony requests Carey’s presence “as the father of Wyoming’s freedom for women” to speak at a NAWSA conference in celebration of the passage on November 7, 1893, of a popular referendum in Colorado that gave women the right to vote. Colorado became the first American state to enact women’s suffrage by popular referendum. Box 13, Carey family papers, Collection No. 1212, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In addition to Joseph Carey’s judicial and political careers, he had extensive business interests in Wyoming. Carey organized the J.M. Carey and Bros. Land Company, the Wheatland Development Company, and Wheatland Industrial Company. In addition, he was a president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

Joseph M. Carey died on February 5, 1924. Upon their father’s death, Robert and Charles continued to manage the J.M. Carey and Brothers Land Company. Charles Carey died in 1935.

The Carey family was influential throughout much of Wyoming’s early history. More information about the family can be found in their papers housed at the American Heritage Center. You can also view digitized letters, speeches and other documents concerning Joseph and Robert Carey in the AHC’s Digital Collections portal.

Post contributed by AHC Digitization Technician Sara Saulcy.


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