On this day in 1889, the Wyoming state convention approves a constitution that includes a provision granting women the right to vote. Formally admitted into the union the following year, Wyoming thus became the first state in the history of the nation to allow its female citizens to vote.
That the isolated western state of Wyoming should be the first to accept women’s suffrage was a surprise. Leading suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were Easterners, and they assumed that their own more progressive home states would be among the first to respond to the campaign for women’s suffrage. Yet the people and politicians of the growing number of new Western states proved far more supportive than those in the East.
In 1848, the legislature in Washington Territory became the first to introduce a women’s suffrage bill. Though the Washington bill was narrowly defeated, similar legislation succeeded elsewhere, and Wyoming Territory was the first to give women the vote in 1869, quickly followed by Utah Territory (1870) and Washington Territory (1883). As with Wyoming, when these territories became states they preserved women’s suffrage.
By 1914, the contrast between East and West had become striking. All of the states west of the Rockies had women’s suffrage, while no state did east of the Rockies, except Kansas. Why the regional distinction? Some historians suggest western men may have been rewarding pioneer women for their critical role in settling the West. Others argue the West had a more egalitarian spirit, or that the scarcity of women in some western regions made men more appreciative of the women who were there while hoping the vote might attract more.
Whatever the reasons, while the Old West is usually thought of as a man’s world, a wild land that was “no place for a woman,” Westerners proved far more willing than other Americans to create states where women were welcomed as full and equal citizens.