CHEYENNE – As Rosalind Schliske reenacted the story of Julia Bright’s role in the women’s suffrage movement in Wyoming, the sold-out crowd at Laramie County Community College laughed and cheered along with her.
Schliske, along with the A League of Her Own acting troupe, performed a play for a room of about 175 attendees who were all there to celebrate the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming.
The event – which was sponsored, in part, by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, as part of the Gerald and Jessie Chambers Speaker Series – included an educational play put on by five women from the League of Women Voters, a panel with Wyoming historians and a screening of the trailer for a documentary called “State of Equality.”
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, the event’s master of ceremonies, opened the program by saying, “Seeing all of you here in this sold-out crowd shows what type of state we really are.”
Wyoming, nicknamed the Equality State, was the first U.S. territory to grant women suffrage in 1869.
Important women like Gay Woodhouse, Wyoming’s first and only female attorney general, and Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, sat in the crowd. Burlingame also brought her 8-year-old son along.
“I want him to know, in a very real way, that women were not granted the right to vote,” she said. “Our right to vote as American citizens was acknowledged.”
Advocates who helped earn the right to vote for women were the main topic of discussion.
Historians Rick Ewig and Mike Kassell, who are both adjunct professors at LCCC, spoke about the women and men who paved the way for the suffrage movement in Wyoming.
Christie Goertel of LCCC, who helped plan the event, said, “There’s so much that you read in the history books, but they know so much more.”
The historians spoke about impactful women of the time like Esther Morris, the first female justice of peace in the United States, and Amalia Post, the first woman to serve as a jury foreman.
While progress was made in terms of women’s rights, the historians highlighted that efforts were made to rollback those new freedoms. Opponents of women on juries were successful in repealing that ability shortly after Post served on a jury.
“When you talk about any right, it has to be won over and over again,” Schliske said. “Democracy is like that, too. It has to be fought for.”
Women were not allowed to serve on juries again until 1950, which struck Lucie Osborn, who served as a county librarian and was born in 1949.
“That hit me,” she said. “I’m amazed that women weren’t on juries earlier.”
Carey Hartmann, who is the current county librarian, said that fact helped her understand why voting was so important to her parents. She also said that the core and strength of women in the state is alive and well.
“I always thought that the first women who came to Wyoming, the ones that came here early, were incredible to begin with,” Hartmann said. She said this event showed her that “that spirit is still here.”
Throughout the night, the room sang along to popular women’s suffrage songs, including one called “Good News, Ladies.” The last line of the song reads: Bon grace, ladies– you’ve won your rights at last.