We recognize the State of Wyoming on maps as one of those large, rectangular entities carved out of the western United States. We probably think of the old song, “Home On The Range”. There are cowboys and wide-open spaces and mountains, in Wyoming. I think of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.
The name “Wyoming” has a poetic sound that intutively seems to come from Native American sources. There are a couple of stories regarding the etymology of Wyoming’s name.
Newspaper publisher Legh Freeman of Kearney, Nebraska claimed that he was the first person to suggest the name for the, then new, Wyoming Territory. He said the word derives from the Lakota name “mscheweaming” or large plains. Another source said the the name is a Delaware Indian term meaning “mountains and valleys alternating. At least, that was how the name of Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley was coined.
The Territory of Wyoming and later the State have a very colorful, romanticized history. Much of which, I’ve already covered in previous bluejayblog posts. If you want to review those short-form histories, some of the most relevant material can be found on these three write-ups about territories that all intersect in Wyoming:
Many of the officially prepared histories about Wyoming neglect to mention that most of that state used to be a part of Nebraska Territory. In 1861, new territories were carved from the traditional Nebraska Territory. Among these were parts of Idaho Territory and Dakota Territory. The final version of Wyoming Territory and the State began with the partitioning of pieces of Nebraska Territory, Washington Territory, and Utah Territory into first, Idaho Territory. In turn, part of Idaho Territory was sectioned off into the rectangular political entity we know, today.
Citizens of Wyoming’s first railroad town, Cheyenne, had complained that the region, then a part of Dakota Territory during that territory’s Gerrymandering phase, was difficult to govern from the territorial capital at Yankton in the east.
Union Pacific’s chief engineer, Retired Civil War Major-General Greenville Dodge lobbied Congress on behalf of a proposed Wyoming Territory. With his successful influence, the Wyoming Territorial bill was passed, then signed into law by President Andrew Johnson on July 25, 1868.
Even though Wyoming Territorial officers had been immediately appointed by the President, Congress had not yet confirmed them. Hence, Dakota Territorial laws were still enforced in Wyoming Territory until President Ulysses Grant took office and the new Congress approved Grant’s appointments. In 1869, Cheyenne was named the new Territory’s capital and John Campbell was appointed the first territorial governor.
Wyoming Territory is especially famous for its groundbreaking role in the Women’s Rights movement. One of the first orders of business, in the territorial legislature, was to enact a bill granting female Wyomingites the right to vote. The act was signed into law by Governor Campbell on December 10, 1869.
The next year, on February 17, 1870, Ester Morris of South Pass City was appointed as a justice of the peace. She was the first woman to hold that office in the US. The first legally recognized vote in the US, by a woman, was cast by Mrs. Louisa Swain, September 6, 1870 in Laramie, Wyoming Territory.
Wyomingites were eager for statehood as soon as territorial status was approved. The first legal efforts toward status as a State of the US, began when the Territorial Assembly petitioned Congress for admission to the Union in 1888. The bills were introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate but failed in both houses.
The new governor, Francis Warren led a renewed effort to achieve statehood for Wyoming. On July 8, 1889, the territory held a delgates election to the Constitutional convention. 44 delegates met in Cheyenne in September of that year and drafted the constitution. Territorial voters overwhelmingly approved the document on Election Day, November 5th, by 6,272 to 1,923.
The following month, December of 1889, Wyoming statehood bills were again introduced into both the House of Representatives and the US Senate. The first bill passed the House on March 27, 1890. Meantime, Senate debate centered on the small population of Wyoming and the women’s suffrage provision in the proposed state constitution. At last, three months after House passage, the Senate finally approved the measure.
President Benjamin Harrison signed the Wyoming Statehood Act into law on July 10, 1890, making Wyoming the 44th State of the Union.
Following statehood, Wyoming continued its tradition of granting equal rights for women. The first woman legally elected to any state post in the US, was Estelle Reel. Four years after Wyoming statehood, she was elected to Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1894.
In 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first elected woman to hold the office of governor in the US. Ross later was the first woman to be appointed Director of the US Mint. She held that post from 1933 until 1953. In recent history, women held at least three of Wyoming’s highest elected positions. More than 40 women held seats in the state Legislature and Senate.