This is an unprecedented year for women in American politics: 36 women were elected to Congress during the midterm elections — the largest number of women elected since 1992. There are now a record-breaking 125 women serving in Congress, consisting of the most diverse group of delegates ever elected.
The women elected to serve in the 116th Congress will serve during a period of many celebrations marking the inauguration of suffrage in both Wyoming and the United States. In 2016, former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed an executive order declaring the period between Dec. 10, 2019, and Sept. 6, 2020, to be the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Celebration. During this period, the state will recognize pivotal dates in the history of women’s suffrage.
On Nov. 5, 1889, the Wyoming Constitution was ratified, which was the first state constitution to include suffrage as part of the original document. The constitutional convention spent nearly five days of its 29-day session discussing various concerns about including suffrage in the constitution; especially whether or not women’s suffrage should be put to a vote by the people.
During the convention, many of the lawmakers were concerned that by including suffrage in the Constitution that Congress would refuse to admit Wyoming as a state. Impassioned speeches regarding suffrage defined several days of the convention, including that of Charles Burritt of Buffalo who stated, “…this convention has the courage, and this state has the courage, to go before Congress and the world with this suffrage plank in its constitution, and if they will not let us in with this plank in our constitution we will stay out forever.”
Burritt concluded his speech by saying, “…if we cannot come into the union of states with a platform of right, why then we will stay out and willingly remain in a territorial form of government until all of us have passed away to the grave.”
As it turned out, Congress had a lengthy discussion about suffrage, but admitted Wyoming with only a few conditions, none of which had anything to do with suffrage, directly or indirectly.
Dec. 10, 2019, marks the 150th anniversary of when territorial Gov. John Allen Campbell signed women’s suffrage into law.
July 10, 2020, is the 130th anniversary of Wyoming being admitted to the Union, with the suffrage section remaining untouched by Congress.
Aug. 18, 2020, will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which secured the right to vote for every woman in the country.
Sept. 6, 2020, marks the 150th anniversary of the first vote cast by a woman. That distinction belongs to Louisa Swain of Laramie who voted in a general election in Laramie. Initial reports indicated that Mrs. Church Howe was the first woman voter. However, further investigation revealed that Mrs. Swain had cast her vote 30 minutes prior to Mrs. Howe.
Nov. 2, 2020, is the 140th anniversary of Delilah Sonnesberger casting the first vote in what would eventually become Johnson County.
As part of the celebration, The Wyoming Room staff will research local women of interest and profile historical events that celebrate the heritage of women and suffrage in Sheridan County.
Kim Ostermyer is the manager of The Wyoming Room at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library.