Today in History — Women get right to vote in Wyoming

On September 30, 1889, Wyoming legislators wrote the first state constitution granting women the right to vote. Wyoming gained statehood in 1890. Wyoming has been known as the “Equality State” ever since.

So, why did they do that, give women the vote?

Actually women had been voting in Wyoming for 20 years before the state constitution was written. On December 10, 1869, before the Suffragette movement began, the Wyoming Territorial legislature passed a bill granting women the right to vote. Most historians give two reasons for it: To gain publicity and attention to Wyoming and because men in Wyoming were lonely. As of 1869 when women first got the right to vote in Wyoming, there were approximately 6,000 men in Wyoming and only 1,000 women. The right to vote, it was thought, would attract women of marriageable age to Wyoming.

Surprisingly, a website devoted to history says this was an unsavory motive on the part of men. Men just wanted female companionship and sex, they say, more than they wanted equal rights for women. But all men all the time want female companionship and about 98% of them also want sex with women. So that would be an incidental motive at least, but not necessarily the main motive.  It may come as a shock to the writers of the aforementioned website, but most women want to accommodate those desires of men. So I think male loneliness may have had something to do with it but I don’t think a universal human need and desire can be called unsavory, especially since it was marriage these men were seeking.

I also don’t think that was the only reason, and certainly not the main reason. There are too many other more traditional ways for those men to have attracted women to Wyoming.

The sort of women who were already in Wyoming were rugged individualists out of necessity. Wyoming winters have always been hard, and neighbors depended on each other even if they lived 5 miles apart.  It didn’t matter whether a neighbor was male or female, a neighbor was a needed friend and a friend in need.  Neighbors who need each other respect and help each other, even in politics.

Cattle and railroading were the mainstays of wealth in Wyoming at that time, and since women outlived men at an even greater pace then than they do these days, many widowed women controlled vast wealth and were not going to be shut out of the political process.  Political interests in Wyoming at the time were regional.  Bitter disputes between cattle barons and smaller operators were brewing and eventually led to the Johnson County War in 1892.  About 1869 when women were first given the right to vote, Cheyenne was under the rule of vigilante committees that hanged without trial most anyone charged with a crime more serious than petty theft.  These factions each sought political power and may have seen women as voters who could help them. So there were probably lots of good reasons for men to want to give women the vote.  Reasons that had nothing to do with male loneliness.

A similar situation of single women controlling vast wealth (relatively speaking) arose in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690’s. Women in control of too much wealth made other women jealous and frightened men. The problem was solved by branding the uppity women as witches and hanging them. Men in Wyoming might have been too lonely to have ever considered that as an option. Witch hunts were no longer socially acceptable anyway, at least not if they were called by that name.  So Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote. In 1919 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave all women in America the right to vote.

Looking at the current state of politics Ann Coulter has said it was the worst damned fool thing men ever did. At times it’s possible to think she has a point.