The First Female Governor
"How fitting it was that the Equality State be the first to elect a woman governor" (U.S. Senator, John B. Kendrick)
Background on Nellie Tayloe Ross
Nellie Tayloe Ross had little previous political experience and did not vigorously campaign for office; yet, upon the death of her husband, Ms. Ross became the first female governor of Wyoming, and, more importantly, the United States.
Ms. Ross was born in 1876 in St. Joseph Missouri. Her family had earlier been ruined financially by the Civil war, and during her childhood, her family and town's economic status continued to decline due to drought and grasshopper plagues. Her mother died when she was young. When her father lost his grocery store and house, the Tayloes moved to Omaha. She later completed a two year program in Omaha, Nebraska to become a kindergarten teacher. For the short amount of time that she taught, she worked in and Italian and then Polish neighborhood. She met William Bradford Ross, a young lawyer, in Tennessee while visiting relatives. The two were married and Ms. Ross became a house wife caring for her three sons.
Husband's Political Career
William Ross was a Democrat with political ambitions. Although he was able to build his law practice, he was unsuccessful in reaching political office. He lost reelection for local prosecutor, and never became a Senator of Representative for the House. He was a young attorney and appealed to progressive minded voters from both parties. After the Teapot Dome scandal, where scheming, anti conservationist Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, was jailed for accepting bribes to lease Navy oil reserves, citizens lost faith in Republicans and William Ross managed to be elected as governor.
Husband's Death and Her Consequential Election
Her husband had been in office for almost two years when he died on October 24, 1924 from appendicitis. Since his death occurred so close to a general election in Novemeber, Wyoming law required that his successor be elected then.
The Democratic Party nominated Mrs. Ross. Mr. William Ross had consulted Mrs. Ross on a regular basses on political questions. She was marketable, because her election would serve as a novelty. Wyoming had been the first state to grant women the right to vote, and now it had the possibility of being the first to elect a female governor. However, her brother advised her not to run. Wyoming was normally Repubican, and, more importantly, she was a woman. Political office was a position for men. Nellie was at first hesitant to accept the nomination, but agreed to run for office.
The Republicans nominated Eugene J. Sullivan who had ties to the unpopular, scandal-ridden oil industry in Wyoming. Mrs. Nellie Ross became the fourteenth governor of Wyoming and was inaugurated January 5, 1925. Many of her experiences influenced how she governed. Although she let the world believe that she had grown up in a privileged environment, farm life and employment at her father's store taught her about hard work, perseverance, and the difficulty of surviving under straining conditions of poverty and tragedy. Thus, she supported progressive legislation. Through teaching, she learned how large organizations function.
Hardship was spread as drought, farm, ranch and bank failures plagued the state. Mrs. Ross looked to continue three of her husband's policies which included spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, and strong enforcement of prohibition. She personally proposed required budgets for cities counties and school districts; stronger state laws regulating banks; exploring better options for selling Wyoming's oil; more funds for universities; better and safer coal mines; and protection of women in industrial jobs. She also supported a proposed amendment that would prohibit child labor. The Republican legislature passed five of her proposals and she managed to defeat several legislative attempts at reducing her powers.
Continued Involvement in the Politics
Mrs. Ross was renominated in 1926, but was closely defeated by the Republican Frank C. Emerson. Her gender was used against her, as what the fact that she had failed to appoint a single woman to office. It was falsely claimed that she was just a figurehead and was denounced for having minimally reduced taxes. She continued to participate in politics through her involvement in the state legislature and the Democratic National Committee. She was a Vice President nominee in 1928 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed her as the first female Director of the U.S. Mint till 1955.
Importance and Reasons for Ranking
Momentous change concerning the role of women occurred during this decade. However, many women did not take advantage of their new found power. For instance, though the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, women continued to vote as their fathers or husbands. Yet, Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross was an educated woman who transformed a profession and became involved in politics on a whole new level after being given the right to vote only four years prior. Mrs. Ross was the first female governor, and her election depicted the change the nation was undergoing. Women were striving for equality, and Mrs. Ross proved why females deserved it. She was the first governor to introduce and support the full array of progressive policy in Wyoming, and she continued with her political career and eventually became the first female Director of the U.S. Mint after being the governor of Wyoming.