December 10, 2010
With little fanfare, Wyoming’s 20-member territorial legislature passed a bill 141 years ago extending suffrage to “every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory.”
There was no organized suffrage movement in Wyoming – only a forward-thinking legislator, William Bright, who came around to his wife’s view that all citizens should have the right to vote – and was willing to sponsor the bill that would make it so.
So, why did Wyoming go first? What prompted Bright’s fellow legislators to vote for his bill? While some were certainly motivated by a sense of fairness, others may have viewed it as a way to counteract the voting rights of the newly enfranchised African American men. And for some, it may have been a way to gain publicity and entice more pioneers to settle in the territory.
Whatever the reason, once Wyoming women got the vote, they never looked back. Wyoming went on to become the first state or territory with female jurors, female justices of the peace, and in 1924, the first female governor.
Before Wyoming entered the union as the “Equality State,” the new state constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed by two-thirds of the voters (all men). And when U.S. Congress threatened to withhold statehood over the issue, Wyoming officials responded that the territory would rather remain a territory for 100 years than join the union without women’s suffrage. Congress relented.
For a more colorful and complete narrative of Wyoming’s pioneer women and their right to vote, check out this article on the Autrey National Center website.