2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the Wyoming Territorial Legislature passing the first law in the country that allowed women the right to vote. Wyoming is justifiable proud of this important milestone, but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it seems.
Legend has it that William Bright, the representative from South Pass City was invited to a tea party hosted by Esther Hobart Morris and convinced to sponsor a bill to allow women the right. Though the tea party probably never really happened, William S. Bright did introduce the suffrage bill in the Wyoming Territorial legislature in 1869. You would think such a radical idea would cause a great deal of debate, but that was not the case. It was such an unbelievable thing to do that everyone thought he was playing a prank on them. Though Bright was dead serious, most of his fellow legislators thought it was a fine joke, and they passed the bill with a great deal of hilarity, fully expecting the governor to veto it. Governor Campbell, however, was a bit more enlightened, it seems, for he signed the bill into law on December 10, 1869, and Wyoming officially became the first place in the world where women could vote and hold office.
But the joke doesn’t stop there. R.S. Barr, the Justice of the Peace in South Pass City, was so incensed, he resigned his post contingent on them finding a woman capable of taking his job. Esther Hobart Morris was duly appointed and became the very first female Justice of the Peace in 1870.
Suffrage is one of the biggest reasons I set Meadowlark in South Pass City. The first election where women could vote was held in September of 1870. I had originally planned for my heroine to be one of those to cast the first historic votes, but when the time came, I realized Becky was seventeen and too young to vote!
Unwilling to give up the election, I decided to use one of my secondary character instead. Angel is the owner of a casino/brothel. Given her profession and her already acerbic personality, it wasn’t much of a stretch to make her a dyed-in-the-wool-suffragette. As such, she organized all the women who worked in the brothels, gaming houses and other establishments of questionable virtue in South Pass. They went to the polls together, and woe be unto anyone who got in our way! There is nothing to indicate that anything of the sort happened, but I like to think it could have!