Women of the West: Pioneering Westerners Led the Way on Women’s Vote

Cristen Wohlgemuth

March is Women’s History Month and in 2020 America will celebrate 100 years since the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. Many Western states can proudly say they did it first. A full 20 states or territories granted women the vote ahead of 1920, led by the West.

Although states had many different reasons for granting women the right to vote it’s an undisputed fact of history that they did. And far sooner than Congress was willing to.

Montana suffragette Jeannette Rankin who became the first woman elected to Congress.
Public Domain image

Wyoming Territory made history as the first to grant women voting rights in 1869, a remarkable 51 years ahead of the nation and earning the nickname “The Equality State.”

Women were an integral part of frontier life and some territory lawmakers believed women should have a say in how it was run. Others felt it would attract more women to the territory.

Wyoming women are still integral to Western life today, including MSLF client Mickey Thoman and her daughters, who ranch sheep near Yellowstone National Park. Thoman and others in the region are threatened by the growing grizzly population and the environmentalists litigating to keep the species listed as “endangered” despite the threat the bears pose to locals.

In 1870, Utah Territory also gave women the vote, although an act of Congress later revoked the right. Suffragists had to fight to return the right to vote to women when Utah became a state. In Utah’s case, the federal government prevented equality and human liberty, much as they do today. The federal government’s habit of trampling rights is the reason MSLF is litigating multiple cases against federal agencies over infringements of property rights and other individual liberties.

In Colorado, where MSLF is based, women worked for many years to their secure voting rights and succeeded in 1893. That was still decades ahead of the 19th Amendment. Spurred on by that victory for equality, Colorado then elected the first three female state legislators in U.S. history!

That kind of plucky, pioneering Western spirit is one we celebrate and defend here at Mountain States Legal Foundation. It’s the reason we continue to fight for individual liberty, property rights, and the Second Amendment. We know you share these Western values with us and we’re grateful for your support.

Cristen Wohlgemuth is the Executive Vice President of Mountain States Legal Foundation.

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