Way to go, Wyoming, electing the first female governor! ~Tanya Hanson

marryingminda-crop-to-use1I’ve always been intrigued that Wyoming allowed women to vote far sooner than anyplace else–1869  one year after the Wyoming Territory was incorporated. And when Wyoming was admitted into the Union in 1890, it was upon the condition of women’s suffrage remaining intact. Therefore, Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote!

And Wyoming elected the nation’s first woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876-1977). However, she never set out to be a politician. She truly believed a woman’s calling was home and family. Then her husband’s unexpected death thrust her into the political arena.

Her husband William Bradford Ross, a Democratic governor in a Republican state, died from complications of an appendectomy in October 1924.
Wyoming law required his successor be chosen in the general election scheduled a month later. When Democratic party leaders offered Nellie the nomination to fill the remainder of her husband’s term, she did not reply. Her silence was taken as agreement. She was nominated on October 14 despite having no political experience and having played no real support for women’s suffrage. Later, she claimed she accepted the nomination because she believed she understood her husband’s goals and aspirations better than anybody else.
Missouri-born Nellie Davis Tayloe had prominent southern connections and her mother claimed distant kinship with George Washington. After the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, she obtained a teaching certificate and taught kindergarten before her marriage. On a visit to Tennessee relatives, she met and fell in love with William.
The young lawyer moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming before marrying Nellie in 1902. While devoted to her husband and three sons (one died at ten months of age), Nellie was active in intellectual self-enrichment programs for the Cheyenne’s Women’s Club.
Upon her nomination, Nellie did not campaign for office, other than two open letters. Many voted for her as a tribute to her late husband. However, other citizens wanted Wyoming to have the first woman governor, not only as respect for its longstanding voting rights for women, but as a last chance to have the distinction:  Miriam Ferguson, the wife of Texas’s impeached governor,  was running in his stead in the 1924 election.
ferguson picture
Although Nellie handily won as Wyoming’s 14th governor, 1924 was a catastrophic election year for Democrats. She graciously accepted that the Republican-controlled legislature was unlikely to work with her. Still wearing her mourning garb, Nellie Tayloe Ross was inaugurated on January 5, 1925. (Miriam Ferguson was not inaugurated until January 25.) Ross’s brief speech promised a continuation of her husband’s role, rather than a new start.
Among her heartfelt causes, Nellie fought unsuccessfully for Wyoming to ratify the federal amendment prohibiting child labor, and sought state assistance for the faltering agricultural industry. She urged banking reform and bemoaned the difficulties of enforcing Prohibition. She stood her ground to the federal government on water rights. As an administrator, she received mixed reviews and did not win re-election in 1926.
Although she did not seek public office again, Nellie was not done. A prominent and popular lecturer, she forayed onto the national stage as a Wyoming committeewoman to the Democratic National Convention. In 1929, she seconded the presidential nomination for the governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith and traveled the country speaking on his behalf.
In 1933, Franklin D Roosevelt wanted to be the first president to appoint women to his cabinet, and considered Nellie Tayloe Ross for either Secretary of the Interior of Secretary of Labor. However, she was chosen Director of the Mint, the first woman so appointed. Upon discovering that gold and silver coins were still being struck by hand, she established automation. Her efficiency pared 3,000 employees from the roster of 4,000.
Until Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1952, Mrs. Ross remained Director of the Mint. She lived in Washington D.C. when she died December 19, 1977. Another strong woman of the West!
Have you heard of either Governor Nellie Tyloe Ross or Governor Miriam Ferguson? 
+ posts

14 thoughts on “Way to go, Wyoming, electing the first female governor! ~Tanya Hanson”

    • Hi Janine, so good to see you here. I so enjoyed learning about Nellie. It was random, a “on this day in history” tidbit in the morning paper. She should definitely be in U.S. History books!

    • Hi Dora, thanks for the post, my friend! I honesty never knew about her, or even that Wyoming allowed women the vote. Not even when I taught American Lit, which is closely tied in with history. Sheesh! So interesting about her, it almost all of it just fell into her lap. I can just imagine the tragic picture of her in her mourning clothes, being inaugurated.

  1. What a great post! Thank you for sharing, Tanya! Strong women….yay for Strong women!

    • Hi Melanie, good morning! I too am all for inspiring women. And after her governorship, she had the confidence to travel and speak around the nation. What an inspiration she was! Thanks for posting today.

  2. Great post, Tanya. I love learning about historical firsts for women, and Nellie was a great story. I love that Texas was in the running for first female governor, too. Just shows how open minded we westerners can be. 🙂

  3. Hi Karen, absolutely right. Women had to take on different roles in settling the “wilderness.” I am so glad Wyoming appreciated that fact so early on. Very interesting that the first two women governors in the same month, just a few days apart. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Hi Kim, I never heard of either, either. Kinda sad. So groundbreaking. I love learning about the strong women who went before. What wonderful examples they are. Thanks for stopping by today.

  4. Hi Tanya,

    Fascinating post! Being of an age when school did little to teach girls about women’s contribution to the U.S., I love learning these facts about women who have made a difference! If only I had had role models like them in school. I’m so glad times have changed and school girls now get a broader (no pun intended) history.

    • I know what you mean, Kathryn. How is it U.S. History books don’t ever feature our foremothers? The first (woman) to get a medical or law or dental degree? Grrrrrr.

  5. I had not heard of either Nellie Ross or Miriam Ferguson. I was aware that Wyoming was ahead of the rest of the states with women’s voting rights and elected officials. Thank you for an interesting post.

Comments are closed.