When presenting about NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology, I like to start out with a trivia question, asking the room if anyone knows which state guaranteed women the right to vote first. As you’re sure to have guessed from the headline, it was Wyoming in 1869, while still just a territory. As it would follow logically, Wyoming was then also where the first woman would cast a vote; Louisa Swain of Laramie. My friend Abi Munro-Hulley works near the Wyoming House for Historic Women in Laramie, and walks by Louisa Swain’s statue every day in front of that building. During the 2016 election, women legislators and professors from the University gathered to lay white roses in the statue’s arms in recognition of progress women had made, and to signify their hopes for the future.
How are things in Wyoming now? Abi notes, “Wyoming is very proud of its history of being the first state to give women the right to vote, but apparently we have one of the lowest numbers of women in state government in the country.” A 2016 story by Wyoming Public Media noted that, at that time, women held only 13% of political seats in in the state, and “the gender wage gap in Wyoming is the second largest in the country, and it will be decades before that gap is closed.”
In 2020, the Equality State’s legislature is 18% female. As their website notes, there is a 30% “tipping point” experts say is necessary in politics to effectively address gender issues. The Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus, a non-partisan group of women lawmakers, looks to improve on the legacy of that name. Its members work together to encourage Wyoming women to run for office through candidate development, speaking events, an intern program, and events including an annual conference. This month, Leap into Leadership in Cheyenne will continue that effort with sessions on grassroots campaigning, building a team, volunteering, and more, all designed to support women becoming more involved in politics.
Will their efforts bear fruit? Time will tell.
-Stacey Murphy 2/4/2020