Happy Wyoming Day! The history of USA’s most independent state

UNAPOLOGETICALLY WYOMING – It’s Wyoming Day today, commemorating the day a territory became the 44th state admitted to the Union on July 10, 1890.

In typical state stubbornness known to Wyomingites as pure pride, statehood almost didn’t happen due to a standoff of sorts between the feds in Washington and a young, upstart territory looking to carve out its own identity.

From the beginning, Wyoming announced to DC feds they were fine with being a part of the United States of America as long as Washington respected Wyoming’s “western” way of doing things.

It all started in the late 1860s. When Wyoming became recognized as a territory on July 25, 1868, one of the first orders of business was to form a legislature and make some laws.

Bright’s bill to allow women the right to vote. (Library of Congress)

Credit William Bright, a saloonkeeper and president of the upper house of the Wyoming Territory Legislature as introducing the bill that would forever define Wyoming as the Equality State and a place that championed women’s rights. It was 1869 when Bright brought forth “Chapter 31 – Female Suffrage” that granted all women age 21 and older the right to vote.

Historians disagree on the motive for the movement. At face value, Bright and others in Wyoming truly believed women should be able to vote, especially since the race barrier concerning right to vote had been broken in 1870 with the 15thAmendment.

A more popular theory states that, with a ratio of six men to every woman, Wyoming was simply trying to draw more ladies to the territory by using the legislation as an attractive marketing tool. After all, Women’s Suffrage was gaining traction throughout the country and getting onboard with the movement would make Wyoming look very socially progressive and ahead of the curve.

Another piece of reasoning suggests some lawmakers may have been playing politics with the bill as a way to one-up the opposition party. Wyoming had been appointed a Republican governor (John Campbell) by President Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican. Territory leaders, however, were primarily Democrats.

Grant, together with appointed Republican Attorney General Joseph A. Carey, immediately declared no one in Wyoming could be denied the right to vote based on race.

Women Vote in Cheyenne, November 1888. The steeple of the Union Pacific Depot is visible in the background. (Library of Congress)

That did not sit well with Democrats who largely disagreed. It was the thought that by passing a bill that included women’s right to vote, Campbell would look pigheaded if he vetoed it. If not, Democrats in Wyoming could consider the bill’s passage a coup over Republicans.

At any rate, the bill became law on December 10, 1869. It would be used as a ‘bargaining chip’ of sorts 20 years later when Wyoming was being considered for statehood.

During the process, Congress threatened to keep Wyoming out of the Union if it didn’t rescind the Women’s Suffrage provision. The fledgling territory refused to budge.

Wyoming Territory delegates issued a classic statement via telegram that foreshadows the state’s defiant attitude.

“We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women,” read a telegram sent to congressional leaders.

The gamble worked. Congress blinked first. Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote when it became the country’s 44th state on this day in 1890.

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