In 1869, Republican Governor of Wyoming Territory, John Allen Campbell, signed a law granting “every woman of the age twenty-one years” the opportunity to vote in any territory election. Voting rights for women were included in the Wyoming state constitution in 1889, the first state to do so.
Many opinions are offered by historians and others as to why Wyoming in particular was inclined to be the stand-alone leader taking the issue of women’s suffrage from advocacy to action. Much has been written about the motivation of the prominent man who introduced the bill to the Wyoming territorial government, William Bright, a Democrat, Union veteran and business owner. While it is likely Mr. Bright had political reasons and personal convictions influencing his actions, many other men involved in the decision making process may have been encouraged to support women’s rights for more biological reasons.
7,219 -v- 1,899.
The number of males versus the number of females listed in the 1870 United States Census for the Wyoming Territory. The numbers indicate an abundance of single men, a common problem of westward expansion. Uncommon was the Wyoming approach to the problem. The same year Wyoming Territory granted women voting rights, the territorial legislature also passed laws requiring equal pay for teachers without regard to gender, as well provided married women property rights irrespective of their husbands. All three laws were designed to make the hardscrabble territory life more palatable to the independent women needed to help populate the West.
Was the effort successful? Perhaps. The 1880 US Census makes particular note of the significant movement of women to Wyoming, finding now 14,152 males and 6, 637 females, a more favorable ratio.
Fast forward fifty years. The Nineteenth Amendment is passed and ratified under an initially reluctant Democratic President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. The vote to provide women voting rights as a United States constitutional amendment was successful because of the actions of U.S. Senate Republicans. Of the 56 “aye” votes in favor of passing the Nineteenth Amendment, 36 were from Republican Senators. The Republican National Committee of 1919 broadcast their support in a Jan 11th, 1919 New York Times article “Declaring for Universal Female Suffrage by Constitutional Amendment”.
Reading the 2012 RNC Platform, I am struck by the five paragraph section devoted to voter rights. A section given more ink than the sections of the platform dedicated to both the First and Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Not to mention how anti-woman the party has become. The States Rights party that was an undeniable and valuable mechanism securing the changes to the Wyoming and United States Constitution granting expanded voter rights now advocates removing the right of individual states to determine some of their own voting mechanisms, in particular mail-in ballots.
There is a reference in the current RNC Platform regarding protecting the integrity of the US Constitution of our founders. This seems to ignore the indelible role Republicans have played in protection of the fluidity of our Constitutional documents and that particular purpose of constitutional amendments to protect the forward evolution of rights for all of American citizenry.