Wyoming Passes First Law Granting Women the Right to Vote On This Day in 1869

The Wyoming territorial legislature passed the first woman’s suffrage law on December 10, 1869, and women voted in the state for the first time in 1870. The legislation extended suffrage to “every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory.”

At the time, there was no organized suffrage movement in the Wyoming territory. William Bright, who was persuaded by his wife that all citizens should have the right to vote, sponsored a bill to extend the franchise to women.

Bright’s colleagues in the territorial legislature had a variety of reasons for voting in favor his bill – some were motivated by a sense of fairness, others, unfortunately, viewed it as an opportunity to counteract the voting rights of newly enfranchised African American men, and for still others it was a way to gain publicity and persuade more pioneers to settle in the western territory.

Regardless of the motivation of the various territorial legislators, once Wyoming women got the right to vote, the state kept up its tradition of being a first for women. Wyoming went on to become the first state or territory with female jurors, female justices of the peace, and, in 1924, it became the first state to elect a female governor (Nellie Tayloe Ross).

Before Wyoming entered the union in 1890, it passed a new state constitution in 1889, guaranteeing women the right to vote. When the U.S. Congress threatened to withhold statehood over the issue, Wyoming officials responded that the territory would rather remain a territory for 100 years than join the union without women’s suffrage. Congress ultimately relented.

Note: Although, Wyoming is the first state with a law and then state constitution explicitly guaranteeing women the right to vote, women first voted in the New Jersey under its 1776 Constitution, which vaguely stated that “all inhabitants” of the state could vote. Women voted in New Jersey until 1807 when the state legislature passed a law limiting suffrage to free white males.

 

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