Before I was able to purchase a small place in Wyoming where I live part-year, I always thought of Wyoming as ‘the cowboy state.’ The symbol of a cowboy on a bucking horse is pervasive in the state, and shops and bars are plentiful in throwing around the word ‘cowboy.’ But the other nickname for the great state of Wyoming is ‘the equality state’ because, as any feminist historian may know, Wyoming was the very first place in the entire world to give women the vote. Although it’s often said that the decision to give women the vote had to do with the comparatively small population residing in Wyoming at the time, the pro-suffrage vote was generally along political party lines with the Democrats bringing in the law on December 10, 1869. At the time, there was something akin to five men for every woman in Wyoming.
In September 1870, women finally got their chance to cast their ballots…and apparently predominantly voted Republican. Later that year, women jurists served, and in 1871, the first female Justice of the Peace was elected. Women went on to serve in several capacities, including in the state legislature. However, in my own neck of the woods, in the valley of Jackson Hole, things were a bit slower to take off, but when they did, women certainly made their mark.
It’s difficult to believe that the area in which the town of Jackson now sits was once called Marysvale, but that was the original postal address for the area. The first homestead claims had been filed in the 1880s, mostly by men, with women and families arriving later. In 1893, Maggie Simpson became the official postmistress sitting on a property that now is the center of town. She renamed the district Jackson and, as everyone now knows, that is the name that stuck.
By 1900, the town was slowly developing and lots were being sold for housing and shops, but it remained a fairly laid-back place with no real government. It took another twenty years for a town council to be elected—all women! At the time, the population of Jackson was 307 and Grace Miller beat one Frank Lovejoy for the position of mayor, fifty-six to twenty-eight. The five-woman council was able to collect long-overdue taxes, improve road conditions, maintain the Town Square, control roaming livestock, give access to the cemetery, expand sewer and water systems, and install electric lighting and a phone service. They also employed the first Town Marshal, a woman! Pearl Williams had formerly been working at the drugstore as a clerk, but having been brought up on a ranch located between Jackson and Wilson, she had her own horse and could look after herself in the wild. Apparently, most of Pearl’s time was taken up giving interviews to reporters who loved the story of the female marshal in the wild west. The truth of the matter was that the town jail cells had no doors and the worst incidents Pearl apparently handled, aside from keeping stray cattle out of the town square, involved drunken cowboys.
My own first visit to Jackson was as a young girl in the 1960s. I don’t remember much other than going up to Yellowstone except that it was still a fairly quiet place reveling in its small-town life. I suppose in the 1970s when my book Always on My Mind is set, it was just beginning to evolve into what it is today—a vibrant place that welcomes men and women (!) from around the globe, pandemics permitting. And women, of course, continue to play a vital role in both the state government and the town of Jackson.
If you’d like to win an e-copy of Always on My Mind, comment below and let me know what you think it might have been like for a woman living in Jackson in the seventies. There certainly was a lot going on in the country at the time. Here’s the book’s blurb to give you some ideas: 1972 – Vietnam, the pill, upheaval, hippies.
Wyoming rancher Cooper Byrnes, deeply attached to the land and his way of life, surprises everyone when he falls for vagabond hippie Cassie Halliday. Fascinated and baffled, he cannot comprehend his attraction—or say the words she wants to hear.
Cassie finds Coop intriguingly different. As she keeps house for him and warms his bed at night, she admits to herself she loves him but she misinterprets Coop’s inability to express his feelings.
Parted, each continues to think of the other, but how can either of them reach out to say, “You were ‘always on my mind’?”
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