Nellie Tayloe Ross: America's 1st Elected Female Governor

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The first woman elected governor of an American state was Nellie Taylor Ross, who was elected the head of state in Wyoming in 1924.

She was born in 1876 in St. Joseph, a city on the Missouri River, in the northwest part of the state of Missouri. It was in St. Joseph that the first Pony Express rides began, just a few decades before Nellie Davis Taylor was born.

Nellie and her family later moved to Miltonvale, Kan., and then Omaha, Neb., and she trained as a teacher and taught kindergarten. It was on a family trip to Tennessee that Nellie met William Ross, a lawyer; the two were married in 1902 and moved to Cheyenne, Wyo. They had four sons.

William Ross, a Democrat, was elected governor of Wyoming in 1922. Two years into his term, he underwent an appendectomy and later died from complications from that procedure.

The state of Wyoming declared a special election, to choose who would succeed Ross in the statehouse. The state Democratic Party nominated Nellie Ross to succeed her husband as governor. The Republican Party chose Eugene Sullivan as their candidate.

Nellie Ross won the election and served as governor from 1924. She was the first female governor elected in the United States. She continued her husband's progressive policies, including banking reform, tax cuts, and laws protecting women and children in the workplace. She was also a proponent of Prohibition.

She ran for re-election in 1926 but was defeated by the new Republican standard-bearer, Frank Emerson.

Ross was a representative from her state to the Democratic National Committee and later served as vice chairman of that body. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Ross as director of the U.S. Mint. She served in that capacity for 20 years, retiring in 1953.

Nellie Ross died in 1977 in Washington, D.C. She was 101. She is still the only female governor of Wyoming.

Wyoming was also the location for some other female firsts:

  • It was the first U.S. state to grant women the right to vote, in 1869.
  • Esther Morris was the first female Justice of Peace; she was appointed in 1870 in South Pass City.
  • The first woman elected to statewide office was Estelle Meyer, who in 1894 was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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