A History
of the
American
Suffragist
Movement

 

Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Battle Cry Of Freedom

Getting the Vote in Wyoming

from A History of the American Suffragist Movement



William Bright
William Bright
 

It is axiomatic that the American frontier was always more liberal than so-called civilization. The kind of people who went to frontiers were adventurous and amenable to new ideas; they rarely had any stake in the status quo. Women there endured the same hardships as men and the notion of a separate "woman's sphere" was less plausible. Moreover, because there were always fewer women in newly settled areas, men were more eager to please them. Frontier people tended to be more egalitarian, less tied to formal social codes, and certainly less afraid of change. All of that made men more apt to see women as like themselves and equally capable of casting a ballot.


These factors made it relatively easy for the handful of white Wyoming women to ask for and receive the vote when the territory was officially organized. As in Kansas, it was wives of elected officials who were the behind-the-scenes powers: Julia Bright persuaded her husband, the president of the territorial council, to introduce a suffrage bill to the council, which functioned as the upper house of territorial legislative bodies. William Bright was candid about the fact that he "had never been to school a day" in his life, but, according to Kingman, he "venerated" his "well-informed" wife "and submitted to her judgment and influence...willingly." He worked at persuading his colleagues, using as his best argument that making Wyoming unique in this respect would "attract attention to the...territory more effectually than anything else."

His second argument was not based so much on principle as on partisanship: because the governor said he would veto a suffrage bill, Bright encouraged Democrats to vote for it "to show that they were in favor of liberal measures while the Republican governor and the Republican party were opposed." Then, after the bill passed, he led its supporters in lobbying Governor Campbell to reverse himself on the promised veto. Many letters, "particularly from women," landed on his desk, while other women lobbied him in person. He finally decided that "he did not want the responsibility of offending women...or of placing the Republican party in open hostility to a measure he saw might become a political force." He signed the bill, and thereby "drew down upon himself the bitter curses" of legislators who, hypocritically, had voted for it but actually were opposed.


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