I’m happy that the story about the very first female state governor in the U.S. takes place here in the Great Plains. Nellie Tayloe Ross was born Nellie Tayloe Wynns at St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 29, 1876.
Nellie Tayloe was a school teacher in Omaha, Nebraska before she met her husband, William Bradford Ross. The couple moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. William established a law practice in the city and also became a leader in the Wyoming Democratic Party. William ran for public office many times, however, he always lost to the Republican candidates.
Finally, William Ross captured the Wyoming Governor’s office by campaigning on progressive values, which appealed to voters in both major parties. After about a year-and-a-half as Governor, William Ross died of medical complications after an appendectomy. A special election was scheduled to fill the vacancy. The Democratic Party placed the name of his widow, Nellie Tayloe Ross into nomination.
Nellie Tayloe refused any campaign efforts. She did manage to win the election by a comfortable margin on November 4, 1924. Then on January 5, 1925, she was sworn in to become the very first female governor in the U.S. History was made on her swearing-in, because Miriam, Ma, Ferguson was elected Texas Governor, also on November 4th. But Ross officially assumed her official duties 16 days earlier than Ferguson.
Nellie Tayloe’s administration was a continuation of her late husband’s. Her policies included tax cuts, banking reform, legislation to protect miners, children, and female laborers. She spearheaded Wyoming’s ratification of a pending federal constitutional amendment to prohibit child labor. Nellie Tayloe was a strong advocate of alcohol prohibition.
Nellie Tayloe Ross filed for re-election in 1926. But, once again, she refused to campaign for herself. Her views on prohibition were widely known. Ross lost the election by a narrow margin. Ross remained in politics, as she later was elected to the Wyoming state legislature.
Ross remained very active in the Democratic Party. During the 1928 Presidential campaign, she supported candidate Al Smith. Interestingly, Ross received 31 votes from ten states on the first ballot for Vice-President. Following the convention, Ross served as vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee. She also served as the director of the Women’s Division of the DNC.
On May 3, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Nellie Tayloe as the first female director of the U.S. Mint. During her administration, she initiated the steel Lincoln penny to save resources during World War Two. Ross supervised the introduction of the Jefferson nickel and the Roosevelt dime.
She served 20 years, five terms until her retirement in 1953 when Dwight Eisenhower took control of the Presidency. Nellie Tayloe Ross retired to her home in Washington D.C. until her death on December 20, 1977, at the age of 101.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that Nellie Tayloe Ross’ only prior political experience before her governorship was as an executive officer of the Cheyenne Women’s Club.