A List of Firsts for Wyoming Women
Not only was Wyoming Territory the first government in the world to pass a law allowing women unrestricted voting rights—the territory and state can claim a number of other firsts as well in women’s rights.
First State or Territory to Grant Universal Suffrage: On Dec. 10, 1869, the first Wyoming Territorial Assembly passed the Women's Suffrage Act granting women the right to vote and hold public office in the territory, putting them on equal footing with men. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, this right was written into Article 6 of the new constitution ensuring universal suffrage.
First Female Justice of the Peace in the US: Esther Hobart Morris, appointed February 17, 1870, in South Pass City. Her first act after taking office was to charge her predecessor for failing to hand over the court's records to her. She dropped the charges due to her conflict of interest as both plaintiff and judge but kept her own docket book during her term.
First Women to Serve on a Jury in the US: Laramie, Grand Jury sworn in on March 7, 1870. Women were also sworn in on a Petit Jury in Laramie in April 1870.
First Female Bailiff in the US: Martha Symons Boies Atkinson appointed to see to the needs of the first female jurors, 1870 in Laramie.
First General Election in Which Wyoming Women Voted: September 6, 1870. Louisa Swain of Laramie cast the first documented vote by a woman in Wyoming. Augusta C. Howe of Cheyenne is said to have been the first in Cheyenne, following Swain by 30 minutes.
First Women Newspaper Owners in Wyoming: Laura and Gertrude Huntington, who purchased the Platte Valley Lyre in Saratoga in 1890.
First Presidential Election in Which Women Voted: 1892, Wyoming was the only state with women's suffrage during that election.
First Woman Elected to a State-wide Office in Wyoming: Estelle Reel was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1894, the second in the nation following Laura J. Eisenhuth of North Dakota's election in 1892. Reel was the second individual to hold the office in Wyoming .
First Female Legislator in Wyoming: Mary Godat Bellamy, 1910.
First Female Mayor in Wyoming: Susan Wissler, Dayton, elected 1912.
First Town Governed by Women: Dubbed the "petticoat government" by the press, the town of Jackson elected 3 councilwomen, a female town marshal and a female mayor in 1920. Several of the women were reelected.
First Female Governor in the US: Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected governor on November 5, 1924. Although she and Ma Ferguson of Texas were elected on the same day, Ross was inaugurated on January 5, 1925, two weeks before Ferguson, and thus holds the title. Ross's husband, Governor William B. Ross, had passed away suddenly almost exactly one month before she was elected. She did not campaign for herself leading up to the election as she was still in mourning and wore black for much of her term. She ran for re-election in 1926, but narrowly lost to Frank Emerson.
First Woman Elected to the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Business Council: Irene Kinnear Meade, 1930.
First Female State Senator: Dora McGrath of Hot Springs County, 1931.
First Woman Elected to the Northern Arapaho Tribal Business Council: Nellie Scott, 1937.
First Mixed Jury After Statehood: Sweetwater County, May 8, 1950. According to Cora Beach’s Women of Wyoming, Volume I, just after the selection of the first female jurors in 1870, the lawyers and pundits began to push for a literal reading of the law describing jury qualifications. It had been passed prior to the act granting women’s suffrage and thus specified that the jurors be male. As no one pushed to change the law, the supreme court did not provide a definitive decision nor was the law changed by the legislature until 1949. The first mixed jury in Wyoming since statehood, and thus the first female jurors in 80 years, sat the next year, on May 8, 1950.
First Female State Auditor: Minnie Mitchell, 1955.
First Woman Appointed to the Attorney's General Staff: Ellen Crowley, 1956.
First Female Wyoming Secretary of State: Thyra Thomson, 1963.
First Full-Term Woman Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives: Verda James, 1969.
First Female U.S. Congresswoman to represent Wyoming: Barbara Cubin, 1995.
First Female Wyoming Supreme Court Justice: Justice Marilyn Stebner Kite, 2000. Justice Kite also became the court's first female Chief Justice in 2010.
First Judicial District Judged Entirely by Women: Laramie County Circuit Court, 2009. Hon. Denise Nau, Hon. Roberta Coates, Hon. Catherine R. Rogers.
First Female President of the University of Wyoming: Laurie Nichols, 2015.
First female US Army Infantry NCO: Wyoming National Guard Sgt. Shelby Atkins, 2016.
- The photo of the Jackson Town Council in 1921 is from Wyoming Tales and Trails. Used with thanks.