Women's Suffrage

Through the ages countless women have asserted their right to participate in political, social, economic, and intellectual endeavors around the world. During Europe’s Age of Enlightenment (1714-1789), women such as Mary Wollstonecraft pushed for women’s equality in education and society. Historians hold that she laid the groundwork for the modern women’s right movement. She stated, “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, wrote to her husband in a similar vein in 1776 as he attended the Second Continental Congress. She pointed out the hypocrisy of slavery in America and reminded him to “remember the ladies” in the new government. 

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly on behalf of women basic civil rights such as owning property, bringing suits in court, sharing child custody, and keeping their own earnings and inheritance. They formed organizations and organized conventions attempting to secure suffrage for women. However, the women's suffrage movement was not without racism, even as it tried to abolish sexism. Stanton and Anthony considered the 15th Amendment — which sought to prohibit discrimination based on race, color or previous servitude — an affront since white women were still barred from voting.

Despite eastern activism, it was western women who became the first in the United States to enjoy full voting rights. Wyoming took the lead while still a territory when, on December 10, 1869, it was the first place in the world to give women the ability to vote and hold public office. By 1889 Wyoming's population had reached 60,000 and its residents applied for statehood. Many members of Congress did not like the idea of admitting a state where women had the right to vote. Though not all Wyoming legislators favored the 1869 law, there was enough support to respond to Congress with a telegram stating “We will remain out of the Union a hundred years rather than come in without our women!” Wyoming entered the Union as a state in 1890 with woman suffrage intact.

National suffragists such as Carrie Chapman Catt presented Wyoming as a model of success. The Equality State's women had acted capably as jurors and office holders once enfranchised. Catt, as President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, frequently called upon noted University of Wyoming educator Grace Raymond Hebard to bring Wyoming to the attention of the nation during the hard-fought campaign for the right to vote. 

Once the 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution on August 18, 1920, no citizen of the United States was to be denied the vote on account of sex. Nevertheless, many women still faced racial and ethnic discrimination. Women of color found that obstacles to voting, such as literacy tests poll taxes, applied disproportionately to them. Threats of or actual violence and lynching met women, and men, of color who attempted to exercise their voting rights. It was not until the 1924 passage of the Indian Citizenship Act that Native American women and men gained full U.S. citizenship and the right to vote. Asian American immigrants, who were long ineligible for naturalized citizenship on account of race, only won the vote starting in 1943.

See "Additional Resources" below for more on the history of women to secure and to exercise their right to vote and hold public office.


Grace Raymond Hebard

Grace Raymond Hebard was born in 1861. In 1882 she became the first woman to graduate with a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Iowa. That year she moved to Cheyenne with her mother and brothers—Fred, Lockwood— and her sister, Alice and became the only female draftsman in the surveyor general's office. She later rose to the position of deputy state engineer, but did not like the work or the pay. She resumed her studies by correspondence and earned a Master of Arts degree from the same university in 1885.

Vertical Files

The American Heritage Center houses vertical files that provide valuable research materials on topics and people. Each vertical file contains items such as news clippings, booklets, photographs, pamphlets, reports, and more. The materials are typically loose, separate pieces organized in folders and arranged by subject. The name comes from how they are stored: vertically in filing cabinets. The vertical files represented here relate to women’s suffrage.

Louisa Swain

Louisa Ann Swain (1800/01-1878) cast a ballot in a general election on September 6, 1870, in Laramie, Wyoming, becoming the first woman to legally do so since 1807, the year New Jersey took away a woman’s right to vote. Orphaned at around 10 years old in Charleston, South Carolina, she was sent by an orphanage home to learn needlework, spinning, and weaving in the homes of two different women. Sometime around 1821, she met and married Steven Swain, the owner of a chair factory.

Toppan Rare Books Library

The Toppan Library is home to the University of Wyoming's rare books collection, consisting of over 50,000 items. The majority of the materials are printed books, although there are newspapers, magazines, broadsides, illuminated manuscripts, and other materials.

H. C. Waltz

Henry Clay Waltz (1843-1877) was assigned as a Methodist missionary and pastor for Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming from July 1871 to July 1872 by the Colorado Conference of the Methodist Church. He had previously worked as a pastor in Peru, Indiana, and was married in 1870 to Nellie Finlay Carrott. From approximately 1871-1875 Waltz was a pastor in Pueblo, Colorado. He wrote articles for the Western Christian Advocate regarding his missionary work in Wyoming and Colorado and also commented on women's suffrage in Wyoming.

Carey Family papers

Joseph M. Carey was born in Milton, Delaware, on January 19, 1845. His family were well established merchants and thus could provide Joseph with an excellent education. After two years of college, Carey went to the University of Pennsylvania and obtained a law degree in 1867. Carey was interested in politics from a young age and worked vigorously to elect Ulysses S. Grant as U.S. President in 1868.  President Grant rewarded the ambitious young man with the appointment of U.S. District Attorney for Wyoming Territory.

Clarice Whittenburg Papers

Clarice T. Whittenburg was born in Missouri in 1899. She taught in Missouri public schools until 1930, when she moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where she taught at the University of Wyoming Laboratory School for 11 years.

Additional Resources