If I said I was sick to the death of politics, I’m sure most people in the United States would agree with me. As someone who voted in the general election just the other day, I have a right to vent about the process. Twelve years ago, when we elected George W. Bush (and, yes, for inquiring minds, I voted for him and voted to re-elect him), I said at the time that the archaic system we have here of the electoral college needed to be scraped and actually allow the American population to vote for the President—not the electors who would then vote for the President. I knew at the time, if we had a “one man one vote” system for the Presidency as we do for EVERY OTHER elected position in this country, that election would have ended very differently. Al Gore would have been our President. The thought of Al Gore as our President nauseated me, however, the system seemed inherently unfair to me at the time. It still seems inherently unfair and outdated. Before anyone starts calling me names here, I will note that if we had a “one man one vote” system in this election for the office of President of the United States, nothing about this election would have changed. We would still have the incumbent returning as President of the United States.
I had a history major in combination with my English major as an undergraduate and I still don’t understand what this country’s founding fathers were thinking when they decided that for the office of President, the American voting public would not vote for the President but would vote for an elector to then vote for the President. I’ve often thought the reason the founding fathers did that was because they were certain that the average voter just didn’t have the intelligence to make the right choice when it came to who should be President. (And, no there will not be a snarky comment here about whether or not that opinion has changed in light of the just ended political campaign and election results—all though, I think I just did make a snarky comment…oh, well.)
In keeping with the theme of voting and staying in Wyoming, here’s a brief history of voting rights for women (gasp!) in Wyoming. The Western suffrage story began when Wyoming transformed a dream into reality in 1869. That year, the twenty-member Territorial Legislature approved a revolutionary measure stating: “That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.” William Bright, the bill’s sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia’s, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship.
There was no organized suffrage campaign, and not a single parade, debate, or public display. But women kept vigil outside Governor John A. Campbell’s office until he signed the bill into law. Eliza A. “Grandma” Swain of Laramie claimed the honor of casting Wyoming’s first female ballot in 1870. Esther Morris of South Park City and Caroline Neil gained fame as the nation’s first female justices of the peace. The next year Wyoming’s women sat on juries, another simple but revolutionary inroad for women’s rights.
Why would a western backwater like Wyoming, where there were more antelope than people (still are, actually), challenge the nation to embrace such a controversial experiment? Was it a publicity stunt to attract more settlers? A political ploy to advance partisan causes? A panicked effort to counteract the votes of newly enfranchised African American men in western territories? (The last is the least probable, as Wyoming has usually embraced the notion that a man be judged on the content of his character and not on the color of his skin and the American Civil War and the politics involved with that fiasco were far removed from the thoughts of the average Wyoming citizen.) There were many reasons offered in 1869, and no one explanation satisfies historians even to this day. It is clear, however, that Wyoming women embraced their right to vote and staunchly defended it against all threats.
The news spread rapidly in 1869. Although Susan B. Anthony’s call for eastern women to migrate en masse to Wyoming went largely unheeded, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled to “the land of freedom” on the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad in 1871. Tourists and journalists made regular pilgrimages to the territory, like anthropologists observing an exotic tribe. Some were on the lookout for that “pestiferous freelove doctrine,” which eastern critics of women’s suffrage feared so heartily. But they were hard-pressed to find anything that shocking in Wyoming. By 1888, national suffragists were still anxious to tout the therapeutic effects of suffrage in practice, hanging convention banners declaring that “the vote of women transformed Wyoming from barbarism to civilization.” Harper’s Magazine ran a story describing Cheyenne women in their Sunday best, politely registering voters door to door as if promenading through Central Park.
Life for Wyoming women went on, despite the exaggerated eastern publicity. Town women organized small schools and churches and tried to keep saloons under control (good luck with that!). Hardy ranch women survived the labors and wild adventures of raising cattle on dry windy prairies or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Horsewomen rode astride in trousers, tracking and shooting elk, bobcat and pronghorn. Families crowded into dusty sod houses for shelter during blizzards. A handful of African American women found work in Cheyenne as laundresses. For most women, the right to participate fully in their community’s politics became a fact of life as necessary as working, eating or breathing.
|Nellie Tayloe Ross|
Wyoming statehood, in 1890, brought the frightening prospect that opponents of suffrage would rescind the right in the new constitution. Women lobbied hard against such threats. Two-thirds of the voters (all male) approved the proposed constitution with suffrage intact. The suffragists’ powers of persuasion held up even when statehood was threatened in the face of congressional opposition. When the U.S. Congress, strongly opposed to women’s suffrage, threatened to withhold statehood from Wyoming, Cheyenne officials sent back a staunchly worded telegram stating that Wyoming would remain out of the Union 100 years rather than join without women’s suffrage. On July 10, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill approving Wyoming as the nation’s “Equality State.” Wyoming voters went on to make history in 1924, when they elected Nellie Tayloe Ross, the nation’s first woman governor.
(source for this entry: http://theautry.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage/suffrage_wy.html)