For years I explained to students that the Wyoming legislators extended the suffrage to women because they wanted to attract women immigrants to a frontier state. Today, reading Anna Shaw’s The Story of a Pioneer, (c. 1915) I learned the correct version.
A member of the legislature, grateful to a midwife named Esther Morris for helping in a difficult birth, asked if there was anything he could do for her. She told him she’d like him to introduce a bill enfranchising women. He did, and the Democratic legislature, thinking the whole thing a huge joke, passed the bill to embarrass the Republican governor, who would have to veto the bill.
The governor, originally from Ohio, had heard a speech by Susan B. Anthony when he was a boy, and signed it. The following year a Democrat introduced a bill to repeal the policy, but by that time public sentiment had changed to favor women’s suffrage.
Here’s the part that I thought was absolutely wonderful.
When Wyoming applied for statehood in 1890, some people were afraid the women’s suffrage policy might jeopardize the chances for admission. A number of Wyoming women sent this telegram to Joseph M. Carey, one of the men behind Wyoming statehood: “Drop us if you must. We can trust the men of Wyoming to enfranchise us after our territory becomes a state.”
Mr. Carey discussed the idea with other men who were urging statehood and sent back this reply: “We may stay out of the Union a hundred years, but we will come in with our women.”
I must confess, that makes me all verklempt.