We Celebrate 150 Years! Laramie celebrates Louisa Swain’s significant impact on the nation
There’s more to Wyoming than the Wild West. As far back as territorial days, while men were breaking laws women were making history.
Most people who make history have quotes that can be attributed to them. But that’s not the case for Louisa Swain, the first woman in the world to vote in a democratic election. We don’t even know whom she voted for. Fortunately, the fact that she voted, not who won, is what matters most. Swain is just one of the remarkable women who helped Wyoming earn its nickname, the Equality State.
A progressive past
Tuesday, September 6, 1870, started out just like any other day. The sun rose over Pilot Hill, casting its morning rays over the frontier town of Laramie. Seventy-year-old Louisa Swain made her way downtown—a route she knew by heart even though she was a recent East Coast transplant. It was Election Day, and unbeknownst to Swain, her name would eventually be more well-known than any of the names on the ballot.
On September 7, the Laramie Daily Sentinel ran an article about the election on page two. It was published next to classifieds advertising all that was masculine at the time: miners’ tools, Winchester rifles, tobacco and beaver traps. In the late 19th century, men ran the show, especially in the Wild West. Still, in December 1869, the Wyoming Territory passed a groundbreaking law giving women the right to vote. Ten months later, the first vote cast by a woman was being celebrated in print.
“Yesterday, for the first time in the world, Wyoming put into practice the theory of female suffrage,” wrote the reporter. Besides Swain, there were 92 other women whose opinions were officially counted at the polls for the first time.
The reporter compared the scene to “another incident in our country’s history”—the firing of the first gun at Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War.
“That gun, as its reverberations rolled o’er hill and dale, sounded the death knell of human bondage in the land of the free. And that first little slip of paper which ever fell from a woman into the ballot box—that all-potent talisman against oppression and wrong.”
What started as a whisper in Wyoming—“Should women be allowed to vote?”—would eventually be written into national law.