February 8, 2019

Wyoming’s Wind River Country stretches out before a female outdoor recreationist, athlete, and medical professional. Photo: Zach Snavely

In not-too-distant history, American women didn’t have a right to vote, and Wyoming wasn’t one of the United States of America.

Then, in December of 1869, Wyoming women gained the right to vote, 50 years ahead of the nation’s women. The bill was introduced in the territory’s first legislature by the representative from South Pass City in what is now Wyoming’s Wind River Country. The statute made Wyoming the first territory in the world to unconditionally guarantee women the right to vote in all elections and hold any and all public offices.

“Wyoming is the first place on God’s green earth which could consistently claim to be the land of the free!”

Women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony

If South Pass City was the birthplace of American women’s suffrage, Esther Hobart Morris was the mother. She is said to have played an instrumental role behind the scenes of the 1869 suffrage bill being crafted and introduced. A year after its passing, she was appointed Justice of the Peace at South Pass City, becoming the only woman in the world to hold judicial office at that time.

Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City
Esther Hobart Morris, of South Pass City, Wyoming. Photo: Courtesy of Fremont County Pioneer Museum

But the path to “Equality State” wasn’t smooth or predetermined. In 1871, there was a push in the Wyoming Territorial Legislature to repeal the women’s suffrage law. Though that bill to repeal women’s rights was vetoed by then Governor John Campbell, the legislators rallied to override his veto. The final vote fell to a man representing part of Wind River Country, and Mr. John D. Fosher cast the “nay” that narrowly saved women’s equality in the territory.

“He was the last one to vote. And he voted to save women’s suffrage.”

Jim Allen, great-great nephew of John Fosher and Wind River representative in Wyoming House of Representatives 2014-2018

The battle for equality still wasn’t over. Some 20 years later, the U.S. Congress threatened to refuse statehood to the Wyoming territory if the state’s constitution weren’t cleaned of the women’s vote. Wyoming instead became the only state that never repealed its women’s suffrage statute.

“We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women.”

Telegram from Wyoming territorial legislature to U.S. Congress
wagon and historic buildings in the mountains
South Pass City State Historic Site. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

So, in 1890 Wyoming became the 44th state, and it brought women voters along, earning the nickname the Equality State.

“On behalf of the women of Wyoming, and in grateful recognition of the high privilege of citizenship that has been conferred upon us, I have the honor to present to the state of Wyoming this beautiful flag. May it always remain the emblem of our liberties, ‘and the flag of the union forever.’”

Esther Hobart Morris at the Wyoming Statehood Celebration

To this day, in the mountains and councils of Wyoming’s Wind River Country, women continue to live lives parallel to—rather than behind—men.

Woman on snowmobile
Mandy Fabel is a Polaris ambassador, rock climber, and executive director of Leadership Wyoming.

“The story I’m about to share … lends itself as an example of a young female hunting guide who has found the balance of grit and grace while guiding men twice her age on wilderness big game hunts.”

Jessie Allen, manager and guide for Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch

This year, the 150th anniversary of the revolutionary first page in the Equality State’s legacy, a female Native American stepped into the shoes once filled by Fosher and later by Jim Allen, further diversifying the representation and power of women in the state and in the nation.

“It was a historic moment for my family, friends, volunteers, the communities and our ancestors. We honored (them) by showing up and exercising our sacred right to vote.”

Andi Clifford, Northern Arapaho member upon being elected to Wyoming State House of Representatives seat in Wind River Country

Today, you can visit South Pass City State Historic Site via the Women’s Suffrage Pathway, Hwy. 28. Learn about the gold rush and suffrage history in this ghost town on a tour with the site’s superintendent or on a self-guided tour.

Wyoming Women's Suffrage Pathway Sign
A marking the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Pathway (Hwy. 28) near South Pass City State Historic Site. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

You can join Jessie Allen at the Diamond 4 or Sarah Woltman of Bear Basin Adventures on an all-women’s pack trip and yoga adventure into the Wind River or Absaroka Mountains.

Eat and shop in the many local eateries and shops owned by Wyoming women across the county. Wyoming’s Wind River Country is the home of Wyoming women’s suffrage—come see how this place shaped our state and how our women define it to this day.

Women on horseback ride into a mountain adventure in Wyoming's Wind River Country
Women’s Yoga Mountain Retreat with Bear Basin Adventures.
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