On December 10, 1869, John Campbell, governor of the Wyoming Territory, approved the first law in U.S. history explicitly granting women the right to vote. Commemorated in later years as Wyoming Day, the event was one of many firsts for women achieved in the Equality State.
Twenty years later, on November 5, 1889, Wyoming voters approved the first constitution in the world granting full voting rights to women. Wyoming voters again made history in 1924 when they elected Nellie Tayloe Ross the first woman governor in the United States.
The events leading to the introduction and passage of the 1869 suffrage law remain unclear. One story, long embedded in the history of suffrage in Wyoming, credits Esther Hobart Morris who had arrived in South Pass, Wyoming, shortly before the 1869 elections. The story alleges that Mrs. Morris decided to have a tea party in order to present her support of woman suffrage to candidates for the legislature. Although many historians have not found contemporary records to document this event, the story is recounted in many volumes including Carrie Chapman Catt’s Women Suffrage and Politics; the inner story of the suffrage movement:
At this point, twenty of the most influential men in the community, including all the candidates of both parties, were invited to dinner at the ‘shack of Mrs. Esther Morris’…To her guests she now presented the woman’s case with such clarity and persuasion that each candidate gave her his solemn pledge that if elected he would introduce and support a woman suffrage bill.
Woman Suffrage and Politics, the Inner Story of the Movement. By Carrie Lane Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Schuler; New York: C. Scribner Sons, 1926. p.75. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
One indisputable fact is the appointment of Esther Hobart Morris as the first woman to serve as a justice of the peace. She served for eight and a half months and heard 27 cases.
Democrat William H. Bright, who supposedly had been present as a dinner guest at Morris’ home, won a seat in the legislature and introduced a bill granting women the right to vote. Although the legislators are said to have treated the legislation as a joke, they approved it nonetheless. To their surprise, Governor Campbell signed it into law. The summoning, three months later, of the first women jurors to duty in Laramie, attracted international attention.
- Find more material on the achievement of suffrage in Wyoming. Search the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection on Esther Morris. Read Woman Suffrage and Politics, the Inner Story of the Movement for one version of the first election in Wyoming, including a description of the virulent opposition encountered by supporters of African Americans’ right to vote. See the time line One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage for an overview of the suffrage movement, which enjoyed some of its first successes in Western states.
- Additional collections documenting the woman suffrage campaign include:
- Women’s Suffrage: Pictures of Suffragists and Their Activities
- Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. Part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection
- Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party
- National American Woman Suffrage Association Records
- View images of the “Equality State” in the Library’s collections of Photos & Prints. For example, a search on Wyoming returns images such as The Grand Teton and Yellowstone Canyon; President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Wyoming External is found in the Denver Public Library Digital CollectionsExternal, which includes extensive photographic documentation of the West.
- Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote celebrates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment by showcasing the Library’s extensive collections on women’s history.