On December 10, 1869, Wyoming Territorial Governor John Allen Campbell, citing a “progression of understanding,” signed an act of the Territorial Legislature granting white women the right to vote, the first U.S. state or territory to grant suffrage to women. On September 6, 1870, Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming became the first woman to cast a vote in a general election.
In 1890, Wyoming, with a Republican governor and Democratic legislature, insisted it would not accept statehood without keeping women’s suffrage. When the U.S. Congress demanded Wyoming rescind the right of women to vote as a condition of statehood, the Wyoming legislature fired back in a telegram: “We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without women.” Congress gave in, and thus, in becoming the 44th state, Wyoming became the first U.S. state in which women could vote.
I have long been concerned about the inequality women endure, not only politically, but culturally. Frankly, I much prefer a cadre of women engaged in communal exchange rather than a swarm of chest-thumping men itching to war over “norms” that wiser men and women long ago relegated to the dust bin of history.
I am familiar with the antiquated axiom: “Men write history.” But, when I want to know more about the incremental process of conversation and social interaction that led to the decisions recorded in the textbooks of history, I look to the writings of women for it is here that we discover the full measure of who we are as people.
I take umbrage at those who objectify women. Describing the allure of a woman through a lens focused solely on her body is akin to displaying a slave on an auction block highlighting muscle tone, or good teeth.
What is this, 1847? It was loathsome then and equally repulsive now.
It is well past time to draw sharp attention to the craven immorality embedded in the practice of demeaning and objectifying others based on their sex — and it is incumbent for us to recognize and reverse our complaisance.
When Louisa Ann Swain signed her name on a ballot, insisting that her voice be heard, she lit a candle that became a torch that became a bonfire in the hearts of many. Her signature took but a moment but ignited a century of determination that equality will prevail. All people are created equal is not just a string of pretty words — it is a simple truth with real-world meaning.
The saber-rattling of recalcitrant men will one day be recognized for what it is: an assault on women no less lethal than a gun … or a virus. It is about time that everyone takes notice and, like Ms. Swain, courageously adds their name to the roster of progress.
I hope that the progression of understanding championed by the people of Wyoming in the 19th century and those who march in support of gender equality today, will light the pathway incorporating the vital partnership both men and women play in creating a more just society.
It is also my hope that that light, the flame lighted by Swain and others, will become a beacon guiding us towards the wisdom, shared conversation, and sensitivity required for safe passage on the difficult road to peace.