Today is the anniversary of Wyoming becoming the first territory or state to grant women the right to vote on December 10, 1869. Not Massachusetts. Not Pennsylvania. Not New York. Wyoming.  The reason for the decision is hotly debated and I would have preferred simply a frontier appreciation for freedom. However, one theory may be equally attractive: they wanted women to come to Wyoming.

At the time of the legislation, the state had roughly six men to every woman.  The theory is that women would come to the state for the vote and stay for the families.

While that is not as redeeming as embracing suffrage as a basic right, there is something appealing in drawing citizens with the promise of empowerment and voting.

When I teach the writing of John Stuart Mill, I discuss his lifelong fight for women’s suffrage and rights. Just three years before Wyoming’s decision, Mill sought to correct the injustice of The Great Reform Act of 1832, an ironically named bill that expanded the right to vote but only to “male persons.” Mill presented a petition to the House of Commons for a Second Reform Bill to introduce equal voting rights for women. The Amendment was defeated by 194 votes to 73.

The home of Magna Carta and so many democratic values would overwhelmingly reject suffrage for women at roughly the same time that a territory in the Western United States would embrace it.

After Louisa Swain (right) and others voted for the first time, it was only a couple years later that women were serving on juries.  The first female Justice of the Peace came in 1870. She was Esther Hobart Morris (left).

Even if it was motivated as much by loneliness as liberty, it recognized that women would demand full and equal rights to be part of this expanding nation.

So, well done Wyoming.

wyoming suffrage flag postcard