Wyoming and the Vote

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 Utah (it had been granted earlier and rescinded) and Idaho granted the right in the mid 1890’s while the eastern states stood strong against such destructive policies.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??

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16 thoughts on “Wyoming and the Vote”

  1. Great reminder, Pat. You, your mother and your grandmother do us all proud. My parents always voted, but they belonged to opposing political parties. They used to joke about how they cancelled out each other’s votes.
    I voted early by mail this year so I can rest with a clear conscience on election day.

  2. My mother lived in the hollers of Southwestern Virginia. She went to register and was turned away because the district judge who was doing the registering was a Democrat and he knew her daddy was a Republican and she was a daddy’s girl. Ultimately, someone else had to intercede for her to get registered.

    In our family, we grew up with this story and also the knowledge that we were allowed to vote our conscience so we three sisters registered as a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. My parents were also a divided house of Dem and Rep.

    Voted early here too. Thanks for the reminder of this precious right we have.

    Peace, Julie

  3. Pat, thank you for the reminder of the brave determined women who came before us. Voting is such a privilege. I remember when women used to get dressed up in their Sunday best just to head to the polls. It was like a holiday. I’ve only missed a handful of elections but I do consider it an honor to cast my vote. It makes me feel very special. I plan on being at the polls tomorrow bright and early.

  4. Excellent reminder, Pat!

    My voting tale is about my mom. She was an avid Republican and worked in the campaigns here in Oklahoma tirelessly. Back “in the day” we would have those old time political rallies at some of the smaller towns. One that I remember was in our county seat, WEWOKA. It was about 20-30 minutes from where we lived. We all “caravanned” over with our cars decorated and streamers on the antennas, etc. We dressed in our Bellmon Belle dresses (Henry Bellmon was running for governor). These dresses were fitted at the top and flared out (you guessed it, like a “bell”) at the bottom, made of red, white and blue striped material–very lightweight. Anyhow, there were bands set up to play all into the night and people selling food and of course the political candidates making speeches. I was about 8 or so, but I remember that so well. Mom always worked at the polls and they had their “Republican Womens’ Club” meetings. She took it all very seriously. Never missed a vote for anything, and neither did my dad. They used to dress up to go vote, too.

  5. The West…ahead of it’s time as always.

    I remember a Little House on the Prairie episode about women’s right to vote. It really took an interesting look at the mindset behind wanting the vote for women and fighting it.

  6. An excellent reminder, Pat. Our foremothers made it possible for us to be who we are today–and that is anything we’re willing to work to become. I will be one of the first in line tomorrow to excercise my right to vote and in that way say thank you.

  7. Thanks for all the stories. My dad was what we in the south call a yellow dog Democrat (he would vote Democrat even it it was a yellow dog). My mother’s father was a die-hard Republican. My mother would never, ever tell anyone, not even dad, how she voted. To this day, I still don’t know if she was a Democrat or Rpublican or how she voted in any election. She held the secrecy of the ballot box extraordinarily high.

  8. Hard to imagine that women have only been voting in federal elections for 90 years, and harder still to imagine the arguments against it.

  9. Great Post Pat! I am so grateful for all of the women who came before me that pressed the issues of the day, such as voting, so that as a woman I could enjoy the same freedoms as men. I consider it a privilege to be able to vote. Thanks for reminding us!

  10. I had no idea that women had the vote anywhere before 1920. No tales but I too have never missed voting. My theory is that you can’t complain if you don’t vote!!

  11. Pat, terrific blog! I love this fact. In my first book the hero and heroine left Nebraska for Wyoming for just this reason when they had to find a place to start over. oxoxox

  12. Tanya. . . I love the fact that your hero and heroine left for Wyoming because they could vote. I might add that Wyoming had the first woman governor as well.

  13. Women proved themselves out West and the men were smart enough to recognize their equality of ability and resposibility. I also believe many men witheld the vote because they knew how capable women were and were intimidated. Just goes to show how much more secure western men were.
    I voted early this year for the first time. We are in Florida waiting for the space shuttle to launch and figured there would be delays and we wouldn’t make it home in time.
    The very first election in which I was able to vote I was overseas in the Peace Corps. My absentee ballot arrived 1 or 2 weeks after the election.

  14. Its such a shame when people dont use their right to vote,so many women fought so hard for us that right,there have been a lot of races where it came down to just a few votes difference,I am almost 55 an have been voting since I turned 18 an very proud to say ive never missed a vote!

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