Monday, June 30, 2008

1890: first state allows women to vote

Esther Hobart Morris (1814 – 1902) was a leader in the American woman's suffrage movement. She was also the first woman to serve as a justice of the peace in the United States.

She was born in Tioga County, New York as Esther Hobart McQuigg. Orphaned at age 11, she was apprenticed to a seamstress and became a successful milliner and businesswoman. As a young woman she was active in the anti-slavery movement. She married Artemus Slack in 1841 but was widowed in 1845. She moved to Peru, Illinois, to settle the property in her husband's estate.

There she realized the legal difficulties faced by women because in Illinois, women were not allowed to own or inherit property. She married John Morris, and in 1869 they moved to a gold rush camp at South Pass City, Wyoming Territory.

To promote the idea of giving women the right to vote, Morris organized a tea party ("The Wyoming Tea Party") for the electors and candidates for the first territorial legislature. With the national woman suffrage movement still being organized, Wyoming's enactment of such a law in 1869 was a legislative milestone. Laws were also passed giving married women control of their own property and providing equal pay for women teachers.

When appointed justice of the peace for the South Pass District on February 17, 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in the modern world. During the statehood celebration in 1890 she was honored as a suffrage pioneer. In 1895, at age 80, she was elected a delegate to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland.

A statue of Morris by sculptor Avard Fairbanks is displayed in front of the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne. In 1960, the state of Wyoming donated a bronze casting of the statue to the US Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.

Through her efforts, the territory of Wyoming passed a women's suffrage law in 1869 that became a model for later suffrage laws. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, it was the first state to permit women to vote. (info from Worldbook & Wikipedia; photo by Einar Einarsson Kvaran)

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