When I moved to Cheyenne and was brushing up on state and local history, I was thrilled to find out that Wyoming was right out in front on women’s suffrage. How exciting to learn that women were first able to cast votes here in general elections, that we had the first woman governor and the first female bailiff in the U.S. – appointed to look after the first women jurors!
Beyond elected office and civic duty, women were also taking part in the roughstock rodeo events at Cheyenne Frontier Days early on.
It was a heady time for women everywhere, but on women’s rights, Wyoming seemed ahead of the game. On a broader level, women in the Roaring 20s flaunted their newfound freedom by bobbing their hair, losing their corsets, shortening their skirts and going “bohemian” in the age of jazz.
Flash forward to the present, and it seems the early strides in women’s equality in Wyoming (and around the U.S.) seemed to sputter and stall along the way. Why? It wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of local and national factors that helped put women “back in their place,” including at least one death and injuries at rodeos that resulted in a ban of women participating in roughstock events; the Great Depression, where a family’s survival depended on the man of the house keeping food on the table; then after World War II, servicemen returning home to take back the jobs women had stepped in to do in their absence.
The crushing blow would be monied men of power keeping a tight grip on political machinery (which had pretty much always been the case).
What would a “best case” future for Wyoming women look like? Taking those early wins in equality and moving them forward at light speed, including:
1) A more concerted effort to mentor and support more women to run for elected office, from the school board up and through this effort build our own integrated power base.
2) More mentoring and support for women in business and higher education. Again, to help bring a better balance of power. Most small businesses are owned, or run, by women, with the big difference being the larger the business, the fewer women at the helm. This needs to change.
3) On a more philosophical level: Figuring out how to embrace a broader identity for Wyoming beyond the cowBOY – making it feel more inclusive for everyone. Respecting history is important, but looking at a more inclusive way to portray the state, as a whole, would be a positive step.
The commemoration of women’s suffrage is the perfect moment to set the vision and game plan that builds off those early firsts and moves Wyoming confidently forward to a more balanced, inclusive and hopeful future.