Petticoat Rules: The first women leaders of Jackson 100 years ago

JACKSON, Wyo. — “Women Now Rule Bad Men’s Town” was the headline a century ago on June 17, 1920 in the Jackson Hole Courier. While recent news has focused a lot on history related to the last pandemic in 1918, Jackson has another major anniversary, one to celebrate.

On May 11, 1920 the Town of Jackson voted for an all-woman ticket for Mayor and Councilmen. Over the next month, in a country divided by the pending decision over the 19th Amendment, the national news would be consumed by what they considered, “a first in world history.”

Not only had wives run against husbands (in one case), but women had soundly won the vote of their neighbors.

Photo: Edna Huff on horseback. JHHSM Collection 1994.6004.001P

Mayor Grace Miller and Councilmen (as titled in the official proceedings) Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, Genevieve Van Vleck and Faustina Haight then appointed women to hold the other municipal positions; Marta Winger as Clerk, Viola Lunbeck as Treasurer, Edna Huff as Health Officer and Pearl Williams, 22-years-old, as Marshal.

This was the distinction that put Jackson on the map. All of the current municipal roles in the small town were held by women.

Perhaps none drew so much attention from the press as Pearl, a young woman, acting as Marshal in a town with a reputation for “Bad Men.” The jail didn’t even have doors on it.

Regardless, Pearl took her appointment seriously, and the few ne’er-do-wells she rounded up respected her, and stayed put. Finally, tired of being hounded for interesting soundbites about how a woman could control the wild and wooly western cowboy, she told one reporter that she won the position by “killing three men and burying them myself.”

In reality, Jackson had grown to be a quiet and respectable western town, and tales of outlaws had quickly dissipated into legend well before Pearl was on the job.

Pearl was responsible to “abate any nuisance,” which included removing loose livestock from the town center and dealing with garbage and manure piles in the streets. Not quite the glory the reporters had in mind.

Rose Crabtree with flowers. Crabtree was a member of the all women Town Council in the early 1920s and proprietor of the Crabtree Hotel, an early Jackson landmark.

Within their first six months of power, the “Petticoat Rulers” collected taxes (increasing coffers from $200 to $2,000), officially acquired land for Aspen Hill Cemetery and began using their collected funds to clean up the town.

Roadwork began immediately and a contract was awarded to electrify the newly graded streets. Ordinances were passed making it a misdemeanor to litter or set off fireworks within town limits. Neighbors were encouraged to fix up their homes and yards

The women had accomplished more in six months than their male predecessors had done in six years. It wasn’t until their re-election that they reported taking a salary, $25 for mayor and $20 for each council position for the year.

The community was happy to have the women in charge and the entire ticket gained a second term. Even after Grace stepped down from Mayor, she became Treasurer, and Genevieve Van Vleck and Faustina Haight remained Councilmen under Mayor Charles Huff, alongside Robert Miller and Ray Reed. Edna Huff stayed on as the Health Officer.

On August 26, 1920, the United States adopted the 19th Amendment, allowing women the right to vote. In Jackson at this time, the women, only three months into their terms, had proved they were not only capable of holding political opinions but capable leaders. As Mayor Grace Miller said in 1922, “We simply tried to work together.”

Marta and Dick Winger in the backyard of the church house in Jackson, 1913. Marta was appointed Town Clerk during the all-woman Town Council in 1920 and Dick was the editor of the Jackson’s Hole Courier. Photographed by Seth Hawley. JHHSM Collection from the S.N. Leek Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
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