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Looking back at history in Wyoming, the first state to let women vote

Posted at 2:55 PM, Oct 31, 2018

Wyoming, a state known for cowboys, cattle and its wide-open spaces. But what very few people know is that it's the first state to give women the right to vote.

In fact, the state recognized the importance of the female vote back in 1870, 50 years before it was enacted into the U.S. Constitution.

"We owe this act to men,” says Kim Viner, a docent at the Laramie Plains Museum. “Because obviously men were the only ones who could pass such a law in the territory at the time."

According to Viner, the men passed the act to allow women the right to vote and hold office, in hopes it would bring more families to Wyoming and help the territory to become a state.

"The right decision for all the wrong reasons," Viner says.

Wyoming had the first female bailiff, justice of the peace and governor. It also was first state to allow women on a jury. But it was Louisa Ann Swain who changed the course of history.

"She was just a Quaker woman, 70 years old, when she cast that first vote," Viner says.

Swain was simply going into town to get her yeast, when she cast her ballot, making her the first woman in the U.S. to cast a ballot in the general election.

"She was not the fist-pounding suffragette, saying ‘We need these rights,’ says Mary Mountain, a docent at the museum. “But when the right was afforded, she stepped up."

Not only did the suffragette women fight for the rights of women, but they had a few good men backing them.

"It sounds harsh to say, ‘allowing them,’ but in those days they were,” explains Mountain. “These men were saying, ‘Let’s let women do this."

Mountain says women forget their power until they are heard and believes today's political climate resembles so much of what took place nearly 150 years ago.

"We fall into what is customary,” Mountain says. “Men for our 20th century were guiding the political scene, and we are now saying, ‘Hmm, I don't think that has to continue."