WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage


Wyoming

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Timeline

1869-   William Bright sponsors suffrage bill before Wyoming Territorial Legislature; Governor John A. Campbell signs bill approving full suffrage for women.

1870-   Eliza A. "Grandma" Swain of Laramie casts first female vote in Wyoming; Esther Morris and Caroline Neil appointed justices of the peace of Sweetwater County.

1890-   Wyoming statehood approved by Congress.

1924-   Nellie Tayloe Ross elected governor of Wyoming.





Justice of the Peace, Esther Morris

Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902), Wyoming suffragist and Sweetwater County Justice of the Peace.
Denver Public Library, Western History/Genealogy Department

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Esther Hobart Morris was born in Tioga County, New York, on August 8, 1814. At age eleven Esther's parents died, leaving her an orphan. A seamstress took her in, where she learned valuable skills as a seamstress and hat maker. As a young, independent businesswoman, Esther joined the anti-slavery movement where she learned about many social injustices facing women under slavery. She married but in 1845 sadly found herself a widow. She moved to Illinois, where she married her new and prosperous husband, John Morris.

Like so many Americans, Esther and John caught "gold fever" after the Civil War. They heard about the rich ore deposits in the mining camps of the Rocky Mountains, and so in 1869 they packed up their belongings and moved to the gold camp of South Pass City, Wyoming. Although there were more antelope than people in Wyoming, Esther quickly found a small group of women and men who were interested in politics.

Morris's past involvement in the anti-slavery and women's rights movement spurred her to suggest that the new territory of Wyoming could make world history by granting women the right to vote. Legalized women's suffrage would "prove a great advertisement," she felt, inducing more women and families to settle in Wyoming. Morris lobbied the twenty-two members of the territorial legislature. In 1869, upon the urging of his wife, Julia, William Bright introduced a suffrage measure to the legislature. Passage of this landmark suffrage law that same year helped make Wyoming famous as the "Equality State." Other laws that passed that year gave married women the right to own property, the right to serve on juries, and equal pay for female teachers.

Morris's diligent work on behalf of women in Wyoming Territory earned her an appointment as the first female justice of the peace in South Pass City, the nation, and the world. When Wyoming entered the union as the Equality State in 1890, Morris was honored nationally as a suffrage pioneer. She died in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 2, 1902.