During Women’s History Month, Remember Wyoming Women’s Firsts

Ester Morris office in South Pass City

In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week. Later, the entire month or March was designated Women’s History Month by a presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions in American history.

Wyoming is known as the Equality State, due to the fact that in 1869 Wyoming legislature voted to give women the right to both vote and stand for office. One reason the territorial legislature had for passing the suffrage law, was to give Wyoming some good publicity, hoping that more settlers would come to Wyoming territory. With the gold mines in South Pass City producing less and less gold, more people were leaving rather than coming in. There were six men in the territory for every woman. The lawmakers hoped to bring in more women,.

Esther Morris, of South Pass City, Wyoming, was the first woman justice of peace, and fought for Women’s Suffrage.

South Pass News, South Pass City, Wyoming, September 27, 1870. Mr. Hans, of Atlantic City, was arraigned, on Friday last, before Justice Esther Morris on the change of assault and battery…..Hans was fined $25 and costs.

Most of the Wyoming residents were pro-suffrage. Wyoming Republican, Sundance on July 24, 1889: A large majority of the papers throughout the territory are in favor of women’s suffrage being adopted at the territorial constitutional convention, which indicates that the people of the territory are generally in favor of the measure. We have yet to see any reasonable argument against the adoption of such a clause in our constitution.

However, like it sometimes is the case today, out-of-state people had different ideas.

In a Cheyenne Weekly Sun, April 17, 1890 SADLY MISTAKEN A Lady Wants Gov. Warren to Veto Female Suffrage. It Breaks Up Marriages and Raises the Deuce Generally. A few days ago Governor Warren received a letter from a misguided lady of Cambridge, Mass., who has been rendered unhappy by ridiculous stories of the evil effects of female suffrage in this territory. It is said one has to go away from home to hear the news. Some of the news contained in this letter will surprise the ladies of Wyoming greatly. Mrs. Parsons, however, would be much more surprised if she should come to Wyoming and learn how woefully she has been mistaken. We give the letter together with the governor’s reply.

Your Excellency: Sir: I learn by the paper that the woman’s suffrage bill has passed in that new state but if happily it has not passed the senate and become the law of the land permit me to offer to your excellency an unanswerable objection to the confirmation of such bill. I have heard it from good authority that it is a source of disturbance in the marital relation sand that in some cases it has broken up marriages. There are many reasons why the enfranchisement of women should not be permitted, but the chief reason, I think, every honest right-minded man and woman must hold is that it can disturb and sometimes destroy the holiest relation among men. And it it be remembered that “What God has joined together let not man put asunder,” it seems almost a crime to withhold a veto upon this most momentous woman’s question, and I hold that the best interests of women demand it. Someone writing has said that this is the only nation where religion occupies the head and politics the heart. If that is true among men, how much more must it be true among women, for the latter so much more than men are swayed by their feelings at the expense of their judgment. Therefore it is no wonder that political suffrage granted to a married woman should produce such an unhappy consequence!. Considering, therefore, that beneficent, happy marriage is the bulwark of society, I beg your excellency, for the absolute welfare of your state, to examine carefully the attitude of woman’s political suffrage toward marriage- Women could purify politics. If women would discountenance in husband, father, brother, friend unworthiness in word and deed, if mothers would bring up their sons in ways of honesty how much longer would corruption clog the wheels of our strong ship of state? Then, indeed, would her influence be boundless and measureless for good. No one more than I can rejoice in the expanded field of usefulness which the light of modern times has spread before her, in the number of vocations which she can fill and fill worthily; but l am satisfied that suffrage is not one of her vocations. I am your excellency’s obedient servant. Katharine Parsons, Cambridge, April, 3.

This is the governor’s response. Katharine Parsons.. Dear Madam — Your esteemed favor of the 3d is received. I think you are laboring under a mistake regarding status of women’s suffrage in Wyoming. The matter is not before the legislature of this territory. The legislature in 1869 extended the right of suffrage to women and it has since prevailed— women enjoying the same privileges as men. Wyoming territory now asks admission as a state, and has adopted a constitution which provides for women’s suffrage as it now exists in the territory. The bill for admission is before congress, having passed the house of representatives, and is now in the United States senate, where it will doubtless pass. We have experienced no evil effects In Wyoming from women’s suffrage and it is not as you fear, “a source of disturbance the marital relations, neither has it in some cases broken up marriages.” After a trial of more than twenty years a majority of the men and women of Wyoming believe in women’s suffrage. Very respectfully, your obedient servant. F. E. Warren, Governor. Cheyenne, Wyo., April 10,1890.

In the Wyoming Weekly Leader, Cheyenne, December 11, 1869, there is a brief notice, The Female Suffrage Bill passed the house today... ladies, prepare your ballots.

In a Cheyenne Daily Sun, article on July 24 1890…. the great incident of the celebration, the presentation of the flag, next followed, Mrs. Esther Morris, one of Wyoming’s historical characters, who is regarded as the “mother” of the woman suffrage movement in this state, and who is other wise honored and respected for her great ability and heroic womanhood, was by general consent accorded the post of honor, and made the presentation to Governor Warren on behalf of the women of Wyoming. Gathering the folds of the beautiful flag about her, she said: “On behalf of the women of Wyoming, and in grateful recognition of the high privilege of citizenship that has been conferred upon us, I have the honor to present the state of Wyoming this beautiful flag. May it always remain the emblem of our liberties and the flag of the union forever.

Old Territorial Prison, Laramie, Wyo.

On the Wyoming frontier, women took on what were historically men’s jobs.

In 1899, May Preston Slosson, writer and poet, was appointed to the position of chaplain in the nearly all-male Wyoming State Penitentiary. She organized and spoke at a series of lectures by University of Wyoming professors for the prisoners. When the opening came for a new chaplain, the inmates requested that she take the position. She was the first women prison chaplain in the United State. She held the position until 1903.

On display at the old Territorial Prison in Laramie.

The Centennial Post, Centennial, Feb. 5, 1903. A bill has been introduced in the state legislature to provide chaplain for the Rawlins penitentiary and pay him 1260 year. When the prison was located in Laramie, Mrs. May Preston Slosson was glad to act as chaplain and do the work for the love of it. Perhaps the prisoners have become more sinful from having to live in Rawlins, and the chaplain is given greater task. preacher who will perform service one day in the week for the unfortunates can easily earn the $250. Give it to him.

From the Moorcroft Democrat, December 27, 1918…..That the young women of Wyoming possess sterling metal is again proved by the daring bravery of Miss Princess Butler, who has taken a “man’s job” as driver of the stage between Passaic, Wyo., and Sayle, Mont. This is one of the pioneer spots of this pioneer state, where the railroad, the forerunner of civilization, has not made its appearance.

Southeast Sheridan County had a female doctor, Dr. Mary Ross Lamie. She came to the area in 1905 to practice as a physician. She was the only female physician in Sheridan County at that time.

Women even became interested in politics as a way to bring change to their communities, and the state. The Sheridan Post, May 17, 1912: Dayton has the honor of being the second town in the United States to elect a woman for its chief executive.

And in The Miner Hudson, Wyoming. July 26, 1912, Dayton Has Woman Mayor. Sheridan. — The election of Mrs. Susan Wissler as mayor of Dayton is another instance of the wonderful versatility of woman In her effort to demonstrate that she is the equal of man In all lines of human endeavor. Mrs. Wissler was elected on an independent ticket and by an almost unanimous vote.

In 1924, William Ross won the governors seat in Wyoming. His wife, Nellie, became Wyoming’s first lady. William only held the seat for a few months when he passed away, and in October of 1924, Nellie agreed to run for his seat, an unprecedented move for a woman at that time. She won her race and was inaugurated Jan. 5, 1925 and was the first woman governor in the nation.

She became nationally famous. Mrs. Senator John B. Kendrick, Eula, invited Nellie to Washington, D.C., to give a speech to the Woman’s National Democratic Club. She was in Washington for the inaugural of President Calvin Coolidge.

So, on Women’s History Month, remember those women in Wyoming, who broke the barriers and did what they felt was right, no matter what other people thought of them.



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