With the election tomorrow, I just had to blog about women’s suffrage, especially since it was the western states that first allowed women to vote in America, a fact that always intrigued me. Other Fillies have previously blogged about this, but a reminder never hurts.
Efforts to give women the vote started back in 18th century France, but it wasn’t until 1906 that Finland became the first nation in the world to give full suffrage (the right to vote and run for office) to all citizens.
Lawmakers in the United States weren’t that receptive. Most men in the east insisted that women would be unable to properly fulfill their societal domestic roles if granted equal rights.
But the people in Wyoming weren’t going to wait. Frontier women in Wyoming were pulling their weight, working side by side. Wyoming was still a territory when its legislature in 1869 approved a revolutionary measure stating: “That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.” William Bright, the bill’s sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia’s, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship. Women could vote in local and state elections.
It became the first government in the world to extend voting rights to its citizens.
According to WOW Museum, “tourists and journalists made regular pilgrimages to the territory, like anthropologists observing an exotic tribe. Some were on the lookout for the ‘pestiferous free-love doctrine,’ which eastern critics of women’s suffrage feared so heartily. But they were hard-pressed to find anything that shocking in Wyoming .” Twenty years later, Harper’s Magazine ran a story describing Cheyenne women in their Sunday bet, “politely registering voters door to door as if promenading through Central Park.”
Soon after the bill passed, one of Wyoming’s most acclaimed women, Esther Hobart Morris, who had once been victimized by laws favoring men, was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1870, and her success paved the way for more women to succeed in government. Within a year of her judicial term, women sat on a Wyoming jury for the first time. Wyoming’s pioneering gains prompted Susan B. Anthony to call for Eastern women to emigrate en mass to the Cowboy State.
In 1893, voters of Colorado made that state the second state to pass women suffrage states. Utah (it had been granted earlier and rescinded) and Idaho granted the right in the mid 1890’s while the eastern states stood strong against such destructive policies.
The United States did not pass the 19th amendment giving voting rights to women until 1920.
Now why would a western backwater like Wyoming, where there were more antelope than people, challenge the status quo?
There were reasons given by outsiders. It was an attempt to bring more women to an area short of them. Maybe a publicity stunt to attract more settlers?
I like to think it’s because the challenges of the west gave women unique opportunities. They were often forced into untraditional roles: ranch owners, horse wrangler and business owners. Many could shoot as well as their husbands, fathers, brothers. They fought off Indians, raised cattle on dry windy prairies or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Horsewomen rode astride in trousers, tracking and shooting elk, bobcat and pronghorn. Families crowded into dusty sod houses for shelter during blizzards. Again, according to WOW Museum, for most women, the right to participate fully in the community’s politics became a fact of life as necessary as working, eating or breathing
My grandmother did not live in a western state. She didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 and when that day came she very carefully dressed and cast her very first vote. She was supposed to move with her husband to another city days earlier, but she refused to go until she voted. She never missed an election and neither did my mother.
And perhaps because of that memory repeated over and over, I haven’t missed one either.
Do you have any election or voting tales??