Tag Archives: Women of Wyoming

This Day in Wyoming History: Nellie Tayloe Ross Elected Governor in 1924

On November 5, 1924, Wyoming made history by electing Nellie Tayloe Ross governor, once again shattering a glass ceiling for women. The state that led the way in women’s suffrage became one of two that year to elect a female chief executive.

Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross seated at her desk in the Governor's Office, Wyoming State Capitol Building, 1924-1926. Ross was the first female governor in the United States. She and MA Ferguson of Texas were both elected on November 5, 1924, but Ross took office before Ferguson. (WSA Sub Neg 2260)

Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross seated at her desk in the Governor’s Office, Wyoming State Capitol Building, 1924-1926. Ross was the first female governor in the United States. She and Ma Ferguson of Texas were both elected on November 5, 1924, but Ross took office before Ferguson.
(WSA Sub Neg 2260)

Just over a month before, Nellie had been just another first lady, albeit a very involved one. Her husband, Governor William B. Ross, had bucked the Republican stronghold on Wyoming politics and was elected Governor in 1924, despite a lack of support from Senator John B. Kendrick of Sheridan, Wyoming’s Democratic powerhouse. Nellie was her husbands constant helper, companion and confidant, even writing and refining speeches for him.

Governor William B. Ross standing on the steps of the Governor's Mansion following his inauguration. His wife, Nellie, was offered the Democratic nomination for governor following his unexpected death in 1924. (WSA Bristol Collection 31-8)

Governor William B. Ross standing on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion following his inauguration. His wife, Nellie, was offered the Democratic nomination for governor following his unexpected death in 1924.
(WSA Bristol Collection 31-8)

In September 1924, she accompanied him on a tour of the state to promote his plan to introduce a proposal for constitutional amendment for a mineral severance tax. Following his well-received speech in Laramie on the 23rd, William came down with what he thought was a bad case of indigestion. By the time a doctor was called the next evening, his appendix had ruptured and there was little the specialists from Denver could do once the sepsis set in. William hung on until October 2, with Nellie at his side as often as the doctors would allow. Nellie was devastated by the loss.

Nellie was a considerate corespondent and dutifully sent many hand written thank you notes. This one was sent to Gertrude Hicks in thanks for flowers for William funeral.

Nellie was a considerate corespondent and dutifully sent many hand written thank you notes. This one was sent to Gertrude Hicks in thanks for flowers for William funeral. “You, perhaps, can understand something of the desolation his going has left in my heart – Truly it is unspeakable.”
(WSA H64-36)

William was buried in the family plot in Cheyenne on the 4th. Following his funeral, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Committee Dr. J.R. Hylton, called on Nellie to offer his sympathies and a novel opportunity. How would she like to run for governor to serve out her husband’s term?

Almost as soon as Frank Lucas took over as acting governor, he had called for a special election for governor as statue mandated. There was no time to lose since the general election was coming up on November 5. Including the governor’s race would save the state time and money. But that meant that both parties had only one month to produce candidates and organize a campaign. Who better to take up the Democratic platform than Nellie?

Nellie's suporters were quick to point out that it would be an honor for the

Nellie’s supporters were quick to point out that it would be an honor for the “Equality State” to be the first to elect a woman as governor.
(WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader November 3, 1924)

Against her brother George’s council, Nellie turned down the offers of a comfortable position as a clerk or even State Librarian and accepted the party’s unanimous nomination on October 14. Still in mourning, Nellie declined to campaign for herself. But this did not stop her supporters from taking out newspaper advertisements and publishing literature on her behalf. Even Senator Kendrick endorsed her campaign saying:

No one who has even a passing acquaintance with Mrs. Ross would for a moment doubt her qualifications to act as chief executive of this state. She is highly educated, intensely practical, and is inherently conscientious in the fulfillment of every responsibility. It is a well-known fact that no husband and wife ever lived in our state’s capitol whose relationship was more intimately devoted, and there has perhaps never been an official of the state whose wife enjoyed more fully his complete confidence in his every public act than Governor Ross. She was his chief counselor, and, as he often said, his most severe critic, and his record of service clearly indicates the wisdom of her counsel. — Cheyenne Daily Leader October 29, 1924

Senator and former Governor, John B. Kendrick endorsed Nellie's campaign for governor.  (WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader 10-29-1924)

Senator and former Governor, John B. Kendrick endorsed Nellie’s campaign for governor.
(WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader October 29, 1924)

Despite running as a Democrat, Ross, like her husband before her, made it clear she was her own woman and would not necessarily follow strict party lines.

I am not unmindful of the great responsibility this office entails and… I shall expect and feel in duty bound to make my own decisions in every case… Under no circumstances would I have accepted this nomination had not my familiarity with and my interest in my husband’s work given me an understanding of the problems of the office and a reliance upon my own ability to assume the responsibilities laid down by him. — Cheyenne Daily Leader 11/3/1924

She also made it known that she was of a mind with her late husband and would follow his lead in many areas.

Ross had her detractors, though in deference to her recent loss they tended to be more discrete than in most campaigns. On the eve of the election, Edna Bartlett of Cheyenne published a lengthy political editorial in the newspaper addressing what she saw as the unfounded and wrong assumptions of her fitness for office, and the unfitness of women in general for politics.

We want to answer an objection to Mrs. Ross’ election that is sometimes heard: “I am afraid she isn’t strong enough.” Of course those who know Mrs. Ross personally don’t pay any attention to this: we know that her political enemies have to think of something to say against her election and it is absolutely impossible to say anything against the lady herself, they are forced to attack her strength, sometimes under a pretense of solicitude for her. — Cheyenne Daily Leader November 3, 1924

Edna Bartlett's methodical, logical response to many of Nellie detractors pointed out what she saw as the flaws in the logic against a woman, and Nellie in particular, serving as governor.  (WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader 11-3-1924)

Edna Bartlett’s methodical, logical response to many of Nellie detractors pointed out what she saw as the flaws in the logic against a woman, and Nellie in particular, serving as governor.
(WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader November 3, 1924)

Bartlett goes on to counter such arguments as:

– No woman has the strength to be Governor — “if the Governor’s job was moving pianos or making steel or prize fighting we wouldn’t want a woman governor. But the… quality which determines the winner in these cases is endurance.”

– Women are inferior to men in endurance — “Rather the contrary. Ask your doctor [about childbirth]… There is every reason to believe that [Mrs. Ross] has more of the kind of physical strength needed by an executive than many men who have held the office of Governor or who aspire to it.”

– Strength of mental character and spirit — “Read her letter of acceptance and her letter to the women and note in them the evidence of mental and moral strength, how clear-cut her views, how firm her expression of them!”

– Women are all emotional — “Well, we are willing to concede this… and that Mrs. Ross may be, for here is one of her strong points. She is governed by one emotion:… love… The noble emotion of love will keep her clear-headed and steady… Who can doubt that this emotion is her strength and will mean wisdom and justice for the benefit of the whole state?”

On election day, Nellie watched out the window of the Governor’s Mansion as voters filed into the carriage house, a designated local polling place. Her fate was in their hands.

Nellie won the governor's race in 1924. She was the only Democratic candidate elected to a statewide office in Wyoming that year. (WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader 11-5-1924)

Nellie won the governor’s race in 1924 as the only Democratic candidate elected to a statewide office in Wyoming that year. Her win was much less contested than that of MA Ferguson of Texas.
(WSA Cheyenne Daily Leader November 5, 1924)

In the end, the people of Wyoming elected her by an almost 8,000 vote (55%) majority over E.J. Sullivan. In 1926, she ran for re-election again with a promise of “no pledges except to the people.” She was very narrowly defeated by Frank Emerson. In 1933, she was appointed director of the United States Mint, a position in which she served with distinction as both the first woman and longest-serving (20 years) director.

Newly elected Governor Nellie Taylor Ross signs her oath of office in the Governor's Office, January 5, 1925. (WSA Sub Neg 12564)

Newly elected Governor Nellie Taylor Ross signs her oath of office in the Governor’s Office, January 5, 1925.
(WSA Sub Neg 12564)

Fliers from Nellie's unsuccessful re-election campaign of 1926. (WSA H62-42)

Fliers from Nellie’s unsuccessful re-election campaign of 1926.
(WSA H62-42)

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Filed under This Day in Wyoming History..., Women's Suffrage, Wyoming Governors

How To Make A Mattress

Not satisfied with the commercially produced mattresses available today? Have you ever wonder how to make your own? Well thank goodness the Wyoming Agricultural Extension Service (now the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service) can help! Since 1914, in addition to providing advice on livestock and crops, the Extension Service provided folks with demonstrations and workshops on everything from canning garden produce and sewing clothes to how to use color in home decoration and how to refinish furniture. In this series of photos from the 1940s, Wyoming Home Economics Specialist Pauline Bunting helps an unidentified community group stitch and stuff mattresses.

Between 1987 and 1989, the Wyoming Extension Homemaker’s Council interviewed many of the long time homemakers club members  about their experiences with homemakers extension clubs over the years. Many of these women started in the clubs in the 1930s and 1940s as new brides. Several mentioned community mattress making projects and demonstrations like this one during their club days, and especially during the early 1940s and World War II.

In the fall of the year we used to make mattresses. We went to the community hall, everyone in the neighborhood that needed mattresses. The government would furnish the cotton and the material for the mattresses, but we had instructions that showed us how to make ’em. We could make about four mattresses at a time… I can’t remember how long it took us to make a mattress, three days I think. By the time we got finished, everyone [had] a mattress… [Folks came by] Model T’s or team and wagon or whatever. Some of them came on horseback. We’d take our lunch and stay all day. We were pretty tired at the end of the day. — Mabel Doris Hageman of Douglas, Wyoming (H98-44 Box 4)

The first step was to make patterns and cut out the ticking for the mattress covers. Ticking is the sturdy cotton fabric used for mattress and pillow covers. It is usually off-white with brightly colored pin-stripping.

(WSA P2008-10/81)

(WSA P2008-10/81)

Here an extension agent helps a man sew the ticking together for the mattress cover. They are wearing bandannas over their noses so they do not breath in the fine cotton dust.

(WSA P2008-10/82)

(WSA P2008-10/82)

Weighing cotton for stuffing the mattresses. Notice the bandannas again. Cotton came in large bats and the cotton was weighed out to ensure each mattress received its fair share. According to a 1940s USDA circular, 50 pounds of cotton went into each mattress.

(WSA P2008-10/83)

(WSA P2008-10/83)

Rolling out the cotton onto the ticking. Rolling rather than stuffing produced a more even mattress.

(WSA P2008-10/84)

(WSA P2008-10/84)

Then it is time to add the top ticking and stitch it to the sides. The stick that is waiving in the foreground is a broomstick used to beat out the lumps in the stuffing.

We’d go down there and we’d take our broom, and I suppose you’re wondering how a broom helped? We had to beat ’em when we got those layers in. We had to beat those layers of cotton so long to mat ’em together. — Mabel Doris Hageman

(WSA P2008-10/85)

(WSA P2008-10/85)

After the ticking is sewn closed, a welt was sewn around the edges to give it shape and keep it square. Look how handy these men are with those long needles!

(WSA P2008-10/86)

(WSA P2008-10/86)

Almost done!

(WSA P2008-10/87)

(WSA P2008-10/87)

The mattress was then couched to keep the stuffing from shifting. Couching is a process where you attach buttons to each side of the mattress and pull them tightly together. The buttons keep the thread from pulling or wearing holes in the fabric.

(WSA P2008-10/88)

(WSA P2008-10/88)

The finished mattress is ready for a bed and a good night’s sleep after all that work.

(WSA P2008-10/89)

(WSA P2008-10/89)

For more information, take a look at this wonderful  ca 1940 circular from the USDA encouraging farm families, especially in the south, to turn surplus cotton into mattresses. Thanks to our friends at the National Agricultural Library Special Collections for digitizing this gem!

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Now Showing: Scrap-y Art

It’s that time of year again…time to refresh the display cases in the Reading Room! This time we are indulging in our artsy side, focusing on scrapbook cover artwork from the collection. The display includes examples of painted covers, fabric and handwork, commercial books and even wood and copper. They represent individuals and clubs from around Wyoming, each one as unique as its creator. Be sure to check them out next time you are in!

Temporary Exhibit, Scrapbook art 2014, small case  2

Temporary Exhibit, Scrapbook art 2014, large case 2

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Friday Foodie: Estelle Reel Meyer’s Fruit Cake

Today’s Friday Foodie recipe comes from the scrapbook of Estelle Reel Meyer, the nation’s first woman elected to public office in the United States (Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction 1894-1898) and Director of Indian Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs 1898-1910. Her extensive and eclectic scrapbooks also contain various beauty remedies and exercises, eye wash prescriptions and a recipe for a cholera cure.

Estelle Reel Meyer, 1890s (WSA No Neg)

Estelle Reel Meyer, 1890s
(WSA No Neg)

Meyer, Estelle Reel, scrapbook recipe for fruit cake, nd

Estelle’s Fruit Cake

1 pound of sugar
1 pound and a half of flour
16 eggs
Brandy, quarter of a pint
Raisins, 4 pounds
Currents, 2 pounds
1 1/2 teacups molasses
1 spoon full of soda
1 spoon full of cinnamon
1 spoon full of cloves
1 spoon full of nutmeg

Bake 4 hours if all put in one cake.

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