Celebrating 150 years of women’s suffrage is occasion for real celebration! It is a time of reflection and a time to evaluate the future of Wyoming women; in our past, lies our future.
I firmly believe that our history shapes who we are and who we will become. For the skeptics, the truth of this assertion is self-evident by me, a Wyoming woman and duly elected state senator. So, as I reflect on the question of what my hopes are for the future of Wyoming women, it is simply and powerfully to always remember who we are.
As one of the few female legislators, I am frequently asked to speak on the subject of women running for office and suffrage. Admittedly, at first, the topic made me uncomfortable. I did not run as a woman, I ran as a competent and committed candidate; my gender was not relevant.
I soon realized, however, that even my ability to be running for office was profound, and my discomfort was my ignorance. Because when I began truly understanding my own history as a fifth-generation Wyoming woman, my gratitude that this awesome and humbling experience of serving as a state senator is as a result of a hard-fought battle by men and women the world over, most notably here in Wyoming, who made the courageous decision to fight for this equality and this very opportunity for me.
So, history is not the story of strangers, it is the story of us. History is our memory, and we must remember what it is like to be a pioneer, a settler, a cowboy, a railroader, a public servant, a suffragist.
The story of us is in Esther Hobart Morris. Morris was many great things, but notably she was an ardent suffragist and the world’s first female justice of the peace. What this means today is that as a suffragist, she advocated for what she wanted – equality. Studies indicate that one factor contributing to the gender wage gap is that women do not negotiate and ask for higher compensation. Morris and the suffragists of her day had no qualms about confidently demanding equity.
Another contributing factor is that women have a tendency to not apply for higher-paying positions as a result of a fear of being unqualified. Morris, who was not a lawyer, but rather a saloon keeper, faced resistance simply for being justice of the peace, but was fearless in dispensing justice and maintained a perfect record. Of note, Morris’ husband never supported her efforts, and she had him arrested for drunkenness and violence. Wyoming has an exceptionally high domestic violence rate that is simply unacceptable – a fact that the suffragists would never tolerate.
The story of us is also in suffragist Amalia Post. Post was abandoned twice by her husband and divorced. In the new frontier, Post became a successful entrepreneur and landowner. She also was active in politics and served in the Republican Party for years. As the first woman to serve on a jury, she was also instrumental in defeating efforts to repeal suffrage.
Post focused not only on survival, but serving the greater good and a commitment to democracy through political service. Post would, as do I, encourage more women to enter into politics. The studies show that when women run for office, they get elected.
So, my hopes and dreams for the future of Wyoming women is that they remember their pioneering foremothers, and seek public office, wage equity, a rejection of domestic violence and to always know that as Wyoming women, we can achieve monumental change and global firsts. And in the words of another Wyoming suffragette, Theresa Jenkins, “the women of Wyoming have been placed upon a firmer foundation and hold a more brilliant torch.”