Wyoming Equality Day: Liz Byrd’s quest to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you perhaps wonder as you sipped your coffee this morning about how Wyoming Equality Day originated?  Cheyenne native and Wyoming state legislator Harriett Elizabeth “Liz” Byrd was the guiding individual behind it.  Byrd was the first black woman to serve in Wyoming’s House beginning in 1980. A few years later, she was elected to Wyoming’s Senate, and was the first black legislator to serve there.


Byrd in the Wyoming State Legislature. Harriett Elizabeth Byrd Family Papers, 10443, box 10, folder 23.

Byrd’s parents, Robert “Buck” and Sudie Rhone, supplied her with an “outsider/within” legacy as described by Evelyn Haskell in a 2006 Annals of Wyoming article about Liz Byrd. Haskell explains that the outsider/within perspective is that of an individual who is outside the dominant culture, and yet has access to and intimate knowledge of the workings of the dominant culture. Buck Rhone’s family had settled in Wyoming in the 1870s, and Buck was the first African American child born in Albany County. Liz was born in 1926 with deep family roots already established in Wyoming.

This is not to say that she didn’t experience her share of racism. According to an interview with Byrd pasted into a scrapbook housed at the AHC, as a high school student, she was refused service in a Cheyenne drugstore. Her white classmates threw the ice from their drinks over the counter and walked out. When she applied to the University of Wyoming in 1944, Liz was told that, because she was African American, she would not be allowed to live in campus housing. In the end, she attended West Virginia State Teachers College, a historically black college, graduating in 1949 with a degree in education.

During Liz’s college years, she married James Byrd and the couple made Cheyenne their home, Liz teaching school and Jim working in law enforcement. The couple was soon raising a family of three children, two sons and one daughter. Liz was happy teaching school and didn’t originally have political ambitions. It was the tragic death in 1979 of her younger brother, Robert, that led her into politics. Buck Rhone had high ambitions for his son Robert to gain public office and, after Robert’s death, this ambition was shifted to daughter Liz. Despite running a low-cost campaign, Liz was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1980.

In oral history interviews with Evelyn Haskell, Byrd described an atmosphere in the statehouse that was hostile to women, and to her in particular because she was a black woman. Of a total of 90 seats in both Wyoming’s House and Senate, only 14 were held by women. She found that some of her efforts to present and pass bills were hampered by the fact that a significant number of her female colleagues refused to support her bills; they were afraid of losing good committee assignments by supporting bills sponsored by Liz Byrd. Another complicating factor was Byrd often sponsored unpopular “special” legislation relating to human interests instead of those involving the state’s economic interests.

Her most important bill of national prominence, and the one that presented her with the most difficulty, was ratification of a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The nine years she worked on the bill were marked by strife and animosity. Wyoming state newspapers were filled with letters pro and con from the public and from her fellow legislators. Even one of Liz’s fellow teachers spoke out publicly against the bill. To finally gain passage of the bill, Byrd had to agree to add “Wyoming Equality Day” to the holiday’s name, which became Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day in 1990. Byrd went on to become the recipient of a number of awards and honors, one of the most notable is sharing the pages with Oprah Winfrey, Rosa Parks and other African American women of accomplishment in the book I Dream a Worldpublished in 1989.


Byrd with Governor Sullivan at the signing of the legislation establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Wyoming Equality Day, March 1990. Harriett Elizabeth Byrd Family Papers, 10443, box 3, folder 6.

A number of events around the state are planned to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day, including a schedule of events from January 28 through February 4 on the University of Wyoming campus, called Days of Dialogue. For more information about Days of Dialogue and a list of events, please see https://www.uwyo.edu/studentaff/mlkdod/

– Leslie Waggener, Assocaite Archivist

Much of the text is courtesy of Evelyn Haskell’s article, “Harriett Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Byrd: Wyoming Trail Blazer in Education and Politics,” published in Annals of Wyoming, Vol. 78, No. 1 (Winter 2006).

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Ames Monument Named National Historic Landmark

The Ames Monument, located about 20 miles east of Laramie off Interstate 80, is one of 10 newly-designated national historic landmarks announced November 2 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

The press release, the National Park Service wrote:

The Ames Monument is a pivotal and highly significant work in the career of Henry Hobson Richardson. The simple massing and naturalistic materials of the Ames Monument, designed midway through his career, are a pure manifestation of a critical shift in his architectural design away from a reliance on references to historical stylistic motifs. 


Ames monument, undated. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

At an elevation of 8,247 feet, this monument stands at what once was the highest point on the route of the Union Pacific Railroad. The tracks were rerouted a few miles to the south in 1901, but the monument still looms over the surrounding plains and can be easily accessed from I-80.

Completed in 1882 at a cost of $64,000, the 300 x 32-foot structure honors Oakes and Oliver Ames, financiers and politicians whose business skills were largely responsible for the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The Ames brothers took control of the management and financing of the Union Pacific portion of the railroad at President Abraham Lincoln’s request. Prior to their involvement with the railroad, only 12 miles of track had been completed. Not long after the railroad’s completion in 1869, however, Oakes Ames found himself at the center of a massive scandal concerning the railroad’s financing.


Quarrying rock for the monument. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

The monument was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, famed architect of Trinity Church in Boston, and was Richardson’s only commission west of St. Louis. The monument also features two bas-relief sculptures of the Ames brothers—Oakes on the east side, Oliver on the west—crafted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, renowned sculptor whose creations include the Robert Gould Shaw memorial on Boston Common, the Parnell Memorial in Dublin, and a $20 double eagle gold piece for the U.S. Mint.

The Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts built the monument, employing some 85 workers who lived on site. Workers cut the stone for the pyramid from a granite outcropping common in the area. They then used oxen teams to skid the stone a half-mile to the work site. The rough-faced granite blocks used to construct the monument in many cases weigh several tons. Workers constructed the pyramid near the remote railroad town of town of Sherman, where passengers were encouraged to get off (and look at the pyramid) while the engines were changed. Sherman became a ghost town once the railroad tracks were moved, with nothing left today but crumbling foundations, including those of the roundhouse and turntable.


Ames monument with sightseers and a car. Photo file, American Heritage Center.

Blogger Phil Patton wrote after a visit to the monument in 2009:

“Oliver and Oakes Ames are now largely forgotten by the public, but those few who come across the pyramid are forced to consider their identity. The monument is testimony to the frailty of historical memory—and its power.”

– Leslie Waggener, associate archivist

Courtesy of WyoHistory.org, the National Registry of Historical Places Inventory Nomination form, and Phil Patton

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Star Trek at 50

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. The original series aired its first episode, “The Man Trap” on September 8, 1966 on NBC. Fifty years, 79 episodes, five spin-off series, and thirteen movies later, Star Trek is an implacable cultural phenomenon that has touched the lives of countless people around the globe.


Publicity photograph of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) locked in combat with a Gorn. Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center.

The American Heritage Center holds the collections of several notable figures associated with the original Star Trek series, including series writer Gene L. Coon, composer Gerald Fried, and superfan Forrest Ackerman.

Gene L. Coon was a television writer and producer who wrote or contributed to thirteen Star Trek episodes. His papers at the AHC include scripts for “The Devil in the Dark” and “Metamorphosis.” His papers also include an incomplete memoir.


Publicity photograph of Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center.

Gerald Fried was a film and television composer, who was known for scoring several early films of Stanley Kubrick, including Paths of Glory. For Star Trek, he composed the music for five episodes, including “Catspaw,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” “Friday’s Child” and “Shore Leave,” but his most enduring work on Star Trek is the “Vulcan fight music” from the episode “Amok Time.” Fried’s working titles for the fight music were “The Ancient Combat” and “The Ritual.”

Star Trek Score 27

Fried’s original score of the “Vulcan fight music.” Gerald Fried papers, American Heritage Center.

Forrest Ackerman was a central figure in science fiction fandom from the 1940s through his death in 2008. His collection of Star Trek memorabilia includes production stills from the original series and the Motion Picture, as well as a tribble from the set of the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Name the Tribble, Archives Month Contest

Original tribble. Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center.

Other Star Trek-related collections held at the AHC include:

Sam Peeples – wrote the second pilot episode for the series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
Robert Bloch – screenwriter of “Wolf in the Fold.”
Sol Kaplan – scored the episodes “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Enemy Within.”
Jerry Sohl wrote the teleplay for “The Corbomite Maneuver” and the story for “Whom Gods Destroy.” Notably, Sohl also wrote the scripts for two other Gene Roddenberry- conceived television shows: Genesis II, and The Questor Tapes. The scripts from these television movies are available in his collection at the AHC.

Everyone at the AHC wishes Star Trek a very happy golden anniversary!

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The 19th Amendment and Wyoming’s own Grace Raymond Hebard

catt telegram

Telegram sent by Carrie Chapman Catt to Grace Raymond Hebard April 12, 1920. From Box 21, Folder 6 of the Grace Ramyond Hebard papers.

“To get thirty sixth state, mobilizing one woman each state…want you and only you…” So wrote national woman suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt on April 12, 1920 in a telegram to Wyoming historian, prolific writer, and noted University of Wyoming educator Grace Raymond Hebard. The Suffrage Emergency Brigade was lobbying Connecticut’s governor for the state’s legislature to make it the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment. All hands were on deck and, as one of the suffrage movement’s elite, Hebard was in demand as a lobbyist and speaker.

Wyoming was heralded among national suffragists for being the first state in the Union to sign a woman suffrage act into law. Hebard became that act’s standard bearer. Suffragists were keen to hold up Hebard as a noble example of American womanhood. Back in 1890, Hebard had already shown her suffrage tenacity when she petitioned the Wyoming constitutional convention to adopt a suffrage clause upon becoming a state in the Union.

WY suffrage law

Photograph of the law granting full suffrage to women in the Wyoming Territory, signed December 10, 1869, the first law in the U.S. which granted women full suffrage. This photo was provided to Grace Raymond Hebard by Frank Houx, who was Secretary of State of Wyoming in 1912. From Box 21, Folder 6 of the Grace Raymond Hebard papers.

U.S. ratification of women’s right to vote came on August 18, 1920 when the 19th amendment was passed. Even after their suffrage work was done, Catt and Hebard remained good friends. In 1921, Hebard spearheaded the University of Wyoming’s first honorary degree, which was given to Carrie Chapman Catt.


Carrie Chapman Catt and Grace Raymond Hebard with a group of women during Catt’s visit to University of Wyoming in 1921. Image from Grace Raymond Hebard photo files.

The American Heritage Center holds the papers of Grace Raymond Hebard. Contained in this collection are correspondence, telegrams, posters, and speeches detailing strategies employed by supporters of woman suffrage, as well as Hebard’s role in the process. Select portions of the collection have been digitized and can be viewed here.

– Leslie Waggener, Associate Archivist

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Marilyn Monroe – “True Spirit and Soul”

“Jean took the best pictures of me I’ve ever had,” said Marilyn Monroe at one of Gloria Vanderbilt’s celebrity-studded party in the 1950s. Everyone turned to look at the photographer in question, Jean Howard. Former Ziegfeld girl and MGM contract player, Jean Howard had transitioned into photography as a way to capture Hollywood glamor of the 1940s and 1950s. Her superagent husband, Charles Feldman, founder of Famous Artists talent agency, offered her entrée into the homes and private parties of the movie industry’s elite. Jean Howard knew Marilyn Monroe through Feldman, who was Monroe’s agent from 1951 to 1955.

On the 54th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 5, 1962, the AHC commemorates Monroe through the words of Jean Howard, excerpted from the book, Jean Howard’s Hollywood: A Photo Memoir. The AHC houses the papers and photographs of Jean Howard.

“The first time I saw Marilyn Monroe was in my own garden in 1950. She had come to our house with Elia Kazan, who had a business meeting with Charlie Feldman. I was leaving for a lunch date when I spotted her, a lonely little girl sitting by the pool doing nothing. I asked her if she would like something to drink. She softly refused and I went about my business. We met again in 1953 at the Fox studios, where she was making Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire.

Several years later in New York, around 1957 or 1958, I asked her if she would come by my East Seventy-Seventh Street studio to sit for photographs. Marilyn willingly accepted. She arrived about an hour and a half late. I had just about given up and started to take down the lights when she rushed in, breathless. Once we got going, Marilyn was as cooperative as any person I have ever photographed.

First she eyed the birdcage that Tony Duquette had given me and simply found her own pose.


American Heritage Center. Jean Howard collection. Box 22, folder 13.

But this was not exactly what I had wanted. Although Marilyn had brought along that little tight-fitting, almost strapless black dress she called her “lucky dress,” I wanted to get away from the stereotyped, sexy shot that I had seen so often. We looked in my closet and came out with my favorite Hattie Carnegie black taffeta jacket. In the photograph that followed, I found the true spirit and soul of that beautiful, gifted girl.


American Heritage Center. Jean Howard collection. Box 22, folder 13.

Sometime later, at a party at Gloria Vanderbilt’s, Marilyn appeared. In her sweet, soft way, she said something that startled me and I’m certain the others: ‘Jean took the best pictures of me I’ve ever had.’”

The personal and professional archive of Jean Howard housed at the AHC is a valuable resource for those who wish to learn about Hollywood celebrity and culture from the 1930 through the 1960s. The major part of the collection consists of Howard’s celebrated photographs, which portray celebrity events and portraits. Also included are biographical materials relating to Howard and her husband, Charles Feldman.


American Heritage Center. Jean Howard collection. Box 22, folder 13.

Excerpted from Jean Howard’s Hollywood: A Photo Memoir, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989, p. 226-227.

– Leslie Waggener, Associate Archivist

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Wyoming statehood:  A load of “blatherskitism”?

On July 10, we celebrate Wyoming’s entry into the Union in 1890, but not all of our territorial predecessors were enthusiastic in the years leading up to that historic event. Political machinations and ambitions were at play.

Leading the charge for statehood were “Me and FE,” as the Wyoming Territory’s top Republican leaders Joseph M. Carey and Francis E. Warren were collectively named. Carey was a newly minted lawyer when he arrived during Cheyenne’s track-laying days. Before long he became the territory’s U.S. Attorney (1869–1871), associate justice of the Wyoming Territorial Supreme Court (1871–1876), and territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress (1885–1890). Warren’s career was equally stellar. Arriving in Cheyenne at about the same time as Carey, Warren became the city’s merchant prince and went on to serve the Wyoming Territory as governor (1885–1886, 1889–1890). Statehood for these two high-fliers meant the almost sure prospect of national prominence as U.S. Senators, the logical next step in their political careers.


A young Frances E. Warren (image courtesy Wyoming State Archives) (WSA Sub Neg 4101)

Democrats in the territory weren’t blind to the trajectories of Republicans Carey and Warren and responded rather truculently to the push for statehood. The platform of the territorial Democratic Party in October 1888, coolly stated: “On the question of statehood the Democrats, when the proper time arrives, will be found working enthusiastically in the front of the battle, but we do not believe in indulging in any spread eagle blatherskitism.” Wyoming historian T.A. Larson notes that Democratic opposition was not really to statehood itself; rather, their opposition was to a statehood movement led by Me and FE.


A young Joseph Carey (image courtesy Wyoming State Archives) (Sub Neg 15797)

During the 1888 territorial campaign, the noisiest issue was statehood—at least for politicians. The Democratic Cheyenne Leader credibly maintained that the statehood question had not influenced 100 votes either way. With a Republican win, now Governor Francis E. Warren steamrolled statehood forward. In 1888 the Territorial Assembly had sent to the U.S. Congress a petition for admission in the Union. Bills were introduced in both houses of Congress, but did not pass. Undeterred, Governor Warren and others took action as if the “enabling act” had passed. Warren convened a constitutional convention in September 1889, composed of 49 men. As observed by historian Larson, it seems rather odd to have no women appointees at the convention in a territory where much was said about equality of the sexes, but he adds that it’s consistent with Wyoming’s failure to elect any woman to a territorial legislature. The convention quickly pulled together a state constitution, borrowing from the texts of other state constitutions.

Voters approved the constitution November 5, 1889, by a vote of 6,272 to 1,923. Bills for Wyoming statehood were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House in December 1889. The House passed the bill March 27, 1890. President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill in July, thus making Wyoming the 44th state to enter the Union, with all the benefits (and some said headaches) that this act entailed. Celebrations sprang up in the new state of Wyoming with a plethora of parades, speeches, and music. But there were discouraging words were from the grumpy Cheyenne Leader, which responded to the new status of statehood with “Don’t expect too much.”


Pioneers who came to Wyoming prior to statehood, assembled on the Capitol steps in Cheyenne, July 1940. (WSGA Records, 00014, Box 288, Folder 6)

Material for this post is from the chapter on statehood in T.A. Larson’s History of Wyoming.

– Leslie Waggener, Associate Archivist

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Fourth of July in Wyoming Territory

How did Wyoming celebrate Fourth of July in territorial days? T.A. Larson’s History of Wyoming provides a slice of holiday history from the 1870s and 1880s. Here are excerpts:

The Fourth of July was the great secular holiday, requiring elaborate plans, although certain features appeared again and again. Citizens were usually awakened between three and four in the morning by cannon, small-arms fire, firecrackers, and torpedoes, after which steam-locomotive whistles and bells greeted the dawn. Soldiers sometimes fired artillery salutes at sunrise and at noon. Two indispensable ingredients of a proper Fourth of July celebration were the display of flags and bunting and the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Prominent citizens, nearly always men, were chosen as readers.

Regular parts of the festivities were parades, band music, patriotic songs, barbeques, rainstorms, shooting matches, horse races, and a great variety of athletic contests: sack, foot, wheelbarrow, and hurdle races; jumping; putting the stone; vaulting; and throwing the hammer. Commonly, men and boys tried to climb a greased pole to win a reward resting on top. Often a shaved and greased pig was released and a reward offered to anyone who could capture it. There were a few baseball games. South Pass City and Atlantic City clashed at South Pass City in 1870. Fort Russell and Fort Sanders offered baseball competition for Cheyenne and Laramie teams, with scores in the thirties not unusual.

Laramie firemen around 1890

The Laramie Hose Cart Company pulling a hose cart near the Albany County Courthouse around 1890. This image shows one activity that was included as part of the fireman’s tournaments typical during territorial July 4th celebrations. Image from the B. C. Buffum papers.

Beginning in the 1870s, fireman’s tournaments became a regular feature of the celebrations, there being straightaway races and more complicated hook-and-ladder and water-test contests. A town of any size had a hundred or more volunteer firemen in two or more companies. At Cheyenne in 1880 the Denver firemen claimed that when they competed in the water test, the pressure was much less for them than it had been for the Cheyenne team, making it necessary for them to wait four seconds for water. They objected, furthermore, to having all judges from Cheyenne.

Of course there were accidents. At Laramie in 1876 a whirlwind struck the ladies’ stand, brought down the awning and its supports, and inflicted several scalp wounds.

Certain features which would be introduced in Wyoming celebrations of the Fourth in the 1890s were strangely absent in the territorial period: cowboys and cowgirls on horseback, “Wild West” events, bicycle races. There were many horses and a few dozen bicycles, and many riders for them, but they were not incorporated into the parades.


J. H. Hayford, editor of the Laramie Sentinel. Image from the AHC photo files.

For adults there was much unpleasantness associated with the annual Fourth of July observances. ‘The celebration…is over—Thank heaven,’ wrote [Laramie Sentinel] editor J.H. Hayford in 1879. In 1885 he commented at somewhat greater length: ‘It was about like all Fourths of July. Small boys whooped and yelled, exploded firecrackers and torpedoes, and grown people stood around, wishing it was over…The Fourth of July is the hardest day in the whole year, and everybody, except boys—children—dreads it for months ahead, and looks back to it with horror months afterwards…As it is, the Fourth of July is a ‘holy-terror,’ and ought to be abolished.” Editor Hayford was for “more sensible” observations—go to the country, he said, ride, row, picnic, hunt, fish, get together in families, have a nice dinner, play croquet, swing in hammocks.

The AHC wishes you a happy and safe Fourth of July, whether it be in a hammock or chasing a greased pig.

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