Balow, Jillian (2019, color)

Jillian Balow

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things – that is the Wyoming way.

Louisa Swain, the first woman in the United States to cast her vote in an election – on Sept. 6, 1870 – was a wife and mother, on her way to purchase yeast. An ordinary woman who did something extraordinary and didn’t even know it at the time. This happens every day in Wyoming homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities.

Our founders laid the foundation for Wyoming being the Equality State in the Wyoming Constitution. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, Amalia Post, a suffragette, said, “You have shown the world that as representative men of Wyoming you have the courage of your convictions, and that you are neither afraid nor ashamed to allow women all the rights and privileges unrestricted of American citizens.”

After receiving a copy, she declared that the Wyoming Constitution was the “Women’s Magna Carta.” Indeed, these are profound roots for Wyoming that guide us as a people.

A look through Wyoming’s history is a glimpse at our present, and it is what will help shape our future. Wyoming stories, sometimes told 'round the kitchen table, are remarkable examples of spirit, grit and determination.

My great-grandmother, Ruth Kennedy, who lived in Worland, recounted, “There was no machinery other than hand labor. My dad was kind of late getting tractors. He didn’t believe in getting anything until you paid for it.” She went on, “Our life on the farm was very hard work, but we enjoyed it. We didn’t even think about it being hard, because everyone had to work, so it was just the same for everyone.” Those roots run deep in Wyoming.

State and national equality discussions change form over time as society grows. As of late, they have focused on things such as gender wage gaps and numbers of women in elected office, as compared to men. These are important metrics to consider, but they alone do not define what equality means.

Equality is living in a culture where women can earnestly believe that the same opportunities available to men are available to them, as well. And that is the special thing about Wyoming – I can believe that, because I know of the Wyoming women past and present who know, believe and achieve this each and every day. And I know the Wyoming men who stay true to those founding virtues of equality articulated by Amalia Post.

The joy of living in Wyoming is knowing that so many women and men remain true to our shared heritage of equality. Take a peek into any Wyoming community on any given day, and you’ll find women who don’t break the mold, but create it – again and again.

We are the Equality State not because of one measure or one study, but because of the founding principle of equality enshrined in our constitution that guided us forward in 1890, shaped our path as a state and culture, and rings true just as loudly today, more than a century later.

Jillian Balow is Wyoming's elected state superintendent of public instruction.

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