A year ago, the publisher of The Sheridan Press reached out to me with an idea: As a way to celebrate the Year of Wyoming Women, she wanted to publish a series of articles about women who are breaking barriers across the state. These stories, alongside a community celebration at The Brinton, would mark the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage. It was on Dec. 10, 1869, that the Wyoming territory passed the first law in United States history recognizing the right women had always had—but did not hold—to vote and hold public office.
Instead of focusing on women from that era who we love, like Nellie Tayloe Ross, Esther Hobart Morris and Louisa Swain, we would profile women today, living lives as meaningful as those of our state matriarchs.
Would I be willing to write these stories?
I remember the moment I was asked to participate in this project. I’m a former full-time newsroom reporter turned stay-at-home mom of three. I still moonlight as a writer, working in interviews between trips to the playground and rides to school and naptime, often writing late at night when my children are asleep. I glean great meaning from both roles, and this year, it finally dawned on me that I was living my own childhood dream of being a “mommy and a writer.”
And here I was, gifted with the chance to ask women across the state what fulfils them, what gives them motivation and how they find peace in a busy world.
My writer’s heart leapt at the chance. Along the way, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to talk to educators, legislators, a Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice, an oncologist, non-profit directors, state employees and others. For every woman I’ve spoken with, several others chimed in to tell me about the great things these women are doing for our state. In the end, we had more women on our list to feature than months in the year.
Some of the women we featured are young. They’re millennials who are making sure their voice is heard at the state level, actively shaping Wyoming’s future. Others are grandmothers and mothers, women who have never let anyone—least of all, themselves—view their family as a liability. Instead, it is from a well-rounded, complete life that these women draw strength and courage.
Collectively, though, they’ve faced challenges. One was the first openly gay university faculty member and state legislator in Wyoming, faced with discrimination and judgment through both endeavors. Another, in her chosen career, sees people she has come to love pass away, but does so with empathy and compassion. One is not only raising her three children on the Wind River Reservation—a place her Northern Shoshone great grandmother was forcibly moved to at the turn of the 20th Century—but has taken an entire community of children under her wing. Another leaned on a bedrock of faith when she lost her beloved husband. Some were made to feel like they didn’t belong, like they should be doing “women’s work” instead of the careers they had chosen—particularly those who entered male-dominated fields like law enforcement or the military. But they all endured.
These women represent the larger female population of our state. We work hard, give back, do more, serve as mentors and as students and work with and for Wyoming’s vulnerable and unheard populations. We raise our children, care for our families and go about our jobs, believing that we can shape a better Wyoming.
These women also remember to care for themselves, maintaining meaningful relationships and a connection to those things we all love most about Wyoming: its natural beauty and the ability to lose oneself for just a moment in the vastness of the landscape.
All the women featured this year have given me great hope. There is work to be done. There will always be work to do. We are not the Equality State, but instead we bear the name as a goal to which we will always strive, as we have done for the past 150 years.
Editor’s note: Discover the “Year of Wyoming Women” series!