Editorial:

Proud to be the Equality State

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Our rugged rural state is known for a lot of firsts — the first national park (Yellowstone), first national forest (the Shoshone) and first national monument (Devils Tower). This year, Wyoming is celebrating another significant first that gave us the nickname the Equality State.

In 1869, the Wyoming Territory became the first place in the United States where women could legally vote. To mark the 150th anniversary of the occasion, the Wyoming Office of Tourism has called 2019 the “Year of Wyoming Women.”

Wyomingites blazed the trail for women’s suffrage, as it would take another 50 years for the entire United States to follow suit in 1920.

In fact, Wyoming gave women the right to vote before it even became a state. When Wyoming was invited to join the Union, the U.S. Congress demanded that women’s suffrage be revoked. The Wyoming Legislature responded: “We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women.”

Congress gave in, and Wyoming became a state in 1890.

The Equality State’s roots run deep, but strong Wyoming women don’t just exist in history books — they continue to blaze trails today.

We’re proud to see Lindsay Linton Buk, a Powell native, bringing stories of contemporary Wyoming women to light through her “Women in Wyoming” project.

“In a state as rural as Wyoming, we’re often isolated, so it’s vital to be able to see your peers and the important work they’re doing,” Linton Buk said. “‘Women in Wyoming’ is important now because it gives women strong examples to look up to and show the many pathways to success in the rural West today.”

Locally, we have been glad to see more women take on leadership roles in recent years.

After Park County went more than 20 years without a woman representing the area in the Legislature, Sandy Newsome of Cody was elected in November to represent House District 24.

Similarly, Dossie Overfield joined the Park County Commission this month, becoming the first female commissioner since 2010. The Powell City Council went more than a decade without a councilwoman before Lesli Spencer started representing Ward 3 in 2016.

We’re also fortunate to have women serving on boards governing the school district, college and hospital.

These women — as well as those who work in business, agriculture, healthcare, education or another field — often must juggle a variety of responsibilities at home and work each day.

While Wyoming has hit milestones as the Equality State, there are more opportunities for other “firsts.” For example, Powell has never elected a woman to the Wyoming Legislature. And there’s still more work to be done.

Our state continues to have one of the worst wage gaps in the nation. On average, women in Wyoming earn just 68 cents for every dollar men make. Things are slightly better in Park County, with women making 78 cents for every dollar men earn.

In a comprehensive review of state data released in October, a 78-page report “shows that no matter which way you slice the issue — whether by industry, level of education, age or location — women were consistently paid at lower rates than their male counterparts,” the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

If we want to live up to our name as the Equality State, Wyoming must do better.

Our state also can be proud of these firsts:

  • The first woman governor in the United States: In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected to complete her husband’s term following his death. She went on to serve as the first woman to lead the U.S. Mint, a position she held from 1933-53.
  • The first woman justice of the peace: Esther Hobart Morris was appointed on Feb. 17, 1870.
  • The first all-woman jury was sworn in on March 7, 1870, in Laramie.
  • The first town in America to be governed by women: From 1920-21, the town of Jackson had a woman mayor, town council and town marshal. The council included a woman who had defeated her husband for the position.
  • The first woman bailiff: Albany County appointed the first woman bailiff — Martha Symons Boies Atkinson — in 1870.

This list was compiled by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.

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