Take a Trip Through the First US State to Allow Women to Vote
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Women have been voting in the Cowboy State for 150 years.
By Amanda Ogle
When we think of women’s suffrage in the United States, places like New York and Massachusetts come to mind, where conventions and marches were held in support of women’s suffrage before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. But Wyoming, a state known for cowboy culture, wide-open spaces and frontier history, has the oldest suffrage history in the entire country.
In fact, it was the first territory in the free world to grant women the unconditional right to vote and hold public office — and it was 51 years ahead of the rest of the U.S. to pass the 19th Amendment. The Cowboy State, which is actually the Equality State, is home to many firsts for women throughout history: the first female governor, the first female jurors, the first town that was governed entirely by women — to name just a few. Wyoming was so passionate about its women that when it was invited to join the Union on the condition of women’s suffrage being revoked, it said, “Nah, we’re good.”
In honor of 2019 being the 150th year of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, here’s how to take a road trip to see the state through a suffrage lens.
After four years of restoration, the Capitol building in Wyoming’s capital city, Cheyenne, is open for self-guided tours. A key stop: the Historic Supreme Court Room, which is where statehood and women’s suffrage were discussed. Here in 1869, women’s suffrage was made into law. “My heart swells every time I step into the Equality Room,” says Wyoming state Sen. Affie Ellis. “I think of all the women and men before me who made important decisions not only in our state, but our nation.” The Wyoming Capitol Square Project is slated to be finished this fall or winter.
About a five-minute walk away is the former home of Esther Hobart Morris, suffrage leader and the first female justice of the peace of the modern world. The home is now a venue for private parties and other events.
Trek about an hour west and you’ll hit Laramie, where you’ll find the Wyoming House for Historic Women. With a collection of photos and memorabilia, it honors 13 Wyoming women who were pioneers in law and women’s suffrage, including Louisa Swain, the first woman in the world to cast a vote in a general election; Eliza Stewart Boyd, the first woman to serve on a jury; and Martha Symons Boies, the first woman appointed as a bailiff. Be sure to check out the nearby spot where Swain cast her historic vote.
South Pass City
About four hours west of Laramie and just south of the Wind River Reservation is South Pass City, a once-bustling gold mining town and the birthplace of women’s suffrage (it’s now a popular ghost town). It was here in 1869 that William Bright introduced the bill that led to the women’s vote. “We’ve been doing it longer than anyone, and in the middle of nowhere,” says Joe Ellis, superintendent of the South Pass City State Historic Site. In 1870, Esther Hobart Morris served here as the first female justice of the peace. The town, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is open for visits through Sept. 30 this year, and visitors can take self-guided tours of the old town and guided tours of the Carissa gold mine.
Head back east for about three hours and you’ll hit Casper, once a stop along the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center shares the stories of more than 400,000 pioneers who traveled these routes between 1841 and 1868. Many of them tell the tale of women’s suffrage — the center has curated many first-person perspectives from diary entries and letters. “Walking on these trails was a lot of work,” says Kylie McCormick, a Wyoming historian and Casper local. “There was a democratizing element that happened on these trails … these women were doing unthinkable things at the time, like turning their dresses into breeches just so they could walk the trails and work like the men.” In September, the center will have a temporary exhibit dedicated to women’s suffrage and history in Wyoming.
Road Trip Essentials
Stretch your legs, fill up your belly and rest your head at these women-owned spots along the way.
- Sweet Melissa: This vegetarian and vegan restaurant serves up delicious dishes in a cozy atmosphere. Try the cashew queso and the black bean enchiladas with spicy poblano cream.
- The Bent & Rusty: Claiming to be the largest craftsman co-op in the country with 30 artisans, this is a great stop for local shopping and souvenirs, plus there are crafting classes in the basement.
- Vee Bar Guest Ranch: Guests of the ranch can go fly-fishing and horseback riding, drink in the on-site saloon or read a book on a patio overlooking the Little Laramie River.
- Hike Like a Woman: This company, led by military veteran and gear shop owner Rebecca Walsh, leads women on hikes through scenic mountains and forests in the Laramie area.
- The Cheese Barrel: Fuel up with down-home comfort foods like pancakes, hash browns and breakfast sandwiches. Locals rave about the lunch and always recommend the soup.
- Crescent Moon Coffee: This downtown coffee shop serves up espressos, chai tea, lattes and more.
- Backwards Distilling: At this circus-themed yet sophisticated distillery, you can view the spirits-making area before perusing the creative cocktail menu.
- Grab and Go Gourmet: Owner Maggie King is a classically trained chef serving takeout meals like mac and cheese, falafel pita sandwiches, meatball subs, lemon-herb chicken and power bowls.
- Amanda Ogle, OZY Author Contact Amanda Ogle